||International Charter on Geographical Education
||Published by the Commission on Geographical
Education of the
International Geographical Union, 1992
Challenges and Responses
Questions and Concepts in Geography
The Contribution of Geography to Education
Content and Concepts in Geographical Education
Principles and Strategies for Implementation
Research in Geographical Education
The Commission on Geographical Education
of the International Geographical Union,
Convinced that geographical education is indispensable to the
development of responsible and active citizens in the present and future
Conscious that geography can be an informing, enabling and
stimulating subject at all levels in education, and contributes to a
lifelong enjoyment and understanding of our world,
Aware that students require increasing international competence in
order to ensure effective cooperation on a broad range of economic,
political, cultural and environmental issues in a shrinking world,
Concerned that geographical education is neglected in some parts of
the world, and lacks structure and coherence in others,
Ready to assist colleagues in counteracting geographical illiteracy
in all countries of the world,
Supporting the principles set out in:
- the Charter of the United Nations;
- the Universal Declaration of Human
- the Constitution of UNESCO; the UNESCO
Recommendation concerning Education for International Understanding,
Cooperation and Peace;
- the Declaration on the Rights of the
- many national curricula and statements
on geographical education,
Recommends this International Charter on Geographical Education to all
people of the world.
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The resolution of major issues and problems
facing our world requires the full commitment of people of all
generations. All of the following issues have a strong geographical
population dynamics, food and hunger,
urbanization, socio-economic disparities, illiteracy, poverty,
unemployment, refugees and stateless persons, violation of human
rights, disease, crime, gender inequalities, migration, extinction of
plants and animals, deforestation, soil erosion, desertification,
natural disasters, toxic and nuclear waste, climatic change,
atmospheric pollution, water pollution, ozone holes, limits of
resources, limits to growth, land use, ethnic conflict, war,
regionalism, nationalism and globalization on "Spaceship Earth".
The conflicts created by these problems and
issues present a challenge to geographical educators who are committed to
giving all people the hope, confidence and ability to work for a better
In the endeavor to contribute to peace and justice amongst the people of
the world on the one hand and between human beings and the natural world
on the other, geographical educators look towards the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights and in particular to:
1) "Everyone has the right to a
standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of
him[her]self and of his[her] family, including food, clothing, housing
and medical care and social services, and the right to security in the
event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widow[er]hood, old age or
other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his[her] control."
(1) Everyone has the right to education
... (2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the
human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights
and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance
and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and
shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance
In the context of problems facing humanity,
the right to education includes the right to high quality geographical
education that encourages both a balanced regional and national identity
and a commitment to international and global perspectives.
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Questions and Concepts in
Geography is the science which seeks to
explain the character of places and the distribution of people, features
and events as they occur and develop over the surface of the earth.
Geography is concerned with human - environment interactions in the
context of specific places and locations. Its special characteristics are
its breadth of study, its span of methodology, its synthesis of work from
other disciplines including the physical sciences and the humanities and
its interest in the future management of people - environment
Geographers ask the following questions:
- Where is it?
- What is it like?
- Why is it there?
- How did it happen?
- What impacts does it have?
- How should it be managed for the
mutual benefit of humanity and the natural environment?
Pursuing the answers to these questions
necessitates investigating the location, situation, interaction, spatial
distribution and differentiation of phenomena on earth. Explanations of
current situations come from both historical and contemporary sources.
Trends can be identified which indicate possible future developments.
Some of the central concepts of geographical studies are:
- Location and distribution,
- People-Environment Relationships,
- Spatial Interaction,
Location and Distribution:
People and places have different absolute
and relative locations on earth. These locations are linked by flows of
goods, people, information and ideas and help to explain distribution
patterns on earth. Knowledge of the location of people and places is a
precondition for understanding local, regional, national and global
Places have different natural and human
characteristics. Natural characteristics include landforms, soils,
climate, water bodies, vegetation, animal and human life. Humans develop
cultures, settlements, socio-economic systems and lifestyles according
to their beliefs and philosophies. Knowledge of the physical
characteristics of places and people's environmental perception and
behavior are the bases for understanding the interrelations between
people and places.
People use environments in a variety of
ways. Thus they create varied cultural landscapes through different
patterns of activities. On the one hand, they are influenced by their
physical settings, but on the other, they transform their surroundings
into different culturally created environments, including landscapes of
harmony and landscapes of conflict. Understanding these complex
interactions within space provides an important basis for responsible
environmental planning, management and protection.
Resources are unevenly distributed across
the earth. No country is self-sufficient. Places are linked by transport
and communication systems in order to exchange resources and
information. Insight into spatial interactions leads to understanding of
the current cooperation of people through the exchange of goods and
information and by migration. This insight also leads to the detection
of current problems and to ideas for improving regional, national and
international interactions and cooperation.
A region is an area characterized by
selected criteria. Political criteria define, for example, states and
cities; physical criteria define climatic and vegetation zones;
socio-economic criteria define "developed" and "less developed"
countries. Regions are dynamic in both space and time. Regions are
manageable units for studying and developing environments. Geographers
define regions at different scales from local and national to
continental and global. The integrated system of regions leads to the
concept of a planetary ecosystem. The understanding of the structure and
processes of different regions within the global system is the basis for
the regional and national identity of people and their international
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||The Contribution of Geography to Education
Geography is both a powerful medium for promoting the education of individuals and a major contributor to International, Environmental and Development Education.
Geography and the education of the individual
Although the development of knowledge, understanding, skills, attitudes and values constitutes the holistic process of education, these aspects may be grouped into three classes of objectives. Through their studies in geography, students are encouraged to explore and develop knowledge and understanding, skills, and attitudes and values. In particular they should develop:
Knowledge and Understanding of:
- locations and places in order to set national and international events within a geographical framework and to understand basic spatial relationships;
- major natural systems of the Earth (landforms, soils, water bodies, climate, vegetation) in order to understand the interaction within and between ecosystems;
- major socio-economic systems of the Earth (agriculture, settlement, transport, industry, trade, energy, population and others) in order to achieve a sense of place. This involves understanding the impact of natural conditions on human activities, on the one hand, and the different ways of creating environments according to differing cultural values, religious beliefs, technical, economic and political systems, on the other;
- diversity of peoples and societies on Earth in order to appreciate the cultural richness of humanity;
- structure and processes of the home region and country as daily action space; and
- the challenges of, and opportunities for, global interdependence.
- using verbal, quantitative and symbolic data forms such as text, pictures, graphs tables, diagrams and maps;
- practising such methods as field observation and mapping, interviewing people interpreting secondary resources and applying statistics; and
- using communication, thinking, practical and social skills to explore geographical topics at a range of scales from local to international. Such a process of inquiry will encourage students to:
- identify questions and issues;
- collect and structure information;
- process data;
- interpret data;
- evaluate data;
- evelop generalisations;
- make judgments;
- make decisions;
- solve problems;
- work co-operatively in team situations; and
- behave consistently with declared attitudes.
In this way geographical education contributes to literacy, oracy, numeracy and graphicacy. It also aids the development of personal and social competence, particularly with regard to the spatial dimension of daily life and to international understanding.
Attitudes and Values conducive to:
- interest in their surroundings and in the variety of natural and human characteristics on the surface of the Earth;
- appreciation for the beauty of the physical world, on the one hand, and of the different living conditions of people, on the other;
- concern for the quality and planning of the environment and human habitat for future generations;
- understanding the significance of attitudes and values in decision making;
- readiness to use geographical knowledge and skills adequately and responsibly in private, professional and public life;
- respect for the rights of all people to equality;
- dedication to seeking solutions to local, regional, national and international problems on the basis of the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights"
International, Environmental and Development Education
Geographical Education contributes strongly to International Education as
described in the Recommendation concerning Education for International
Understanding, Co-operation and Peace and Education relating to Human
rights and Fundamental Freedom (18th UNESCO Conference, November 19th,
1974). In particular, Geographical Education promotes understanding,
tolerance and friendship amongst all nations, racial and religious groups
and furthers the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of
peace by actively encouraging:
- "an international dimension and a
global perspective in the education of people at all levels;
- understanding and respect for all
peoples, their cultures, civilizations, values and ways of life,
including domestic ethnic cultures and cultures of other nations;
awareness of the increasing global interdependence of peoples and
- ability to communicate with others;
- awareness not only of the rights but
also of the duties incumbent upon individuals, social groups and
nations towards each other;
- understanding of the necessity for
international solidarity and cooperation;
- readiness on the part of the
individual to participate in solving the problems of their
communities, their countries and the world at large."
Environmental and Development Education
The Preparatory Committee for the U.N. Conference on Environment and
Development, which met in Geneva on 18 March 1991 reported that
environmental and development education at all levels and for all peoples
is crucial in ensuring the sustainable development of the world.
"The more knowledge available in the
hands of educated people capable of understanding the information the
greater the chances are of significantly reducing environmental damage
and preventing future problems. Accordingly, there is a primary need
to strengthen in all countries, especially the developing ones, their
entire educational system as a prerequisite to environmental and
Geographical Education contributes to this
by ensuring that individuals become aware of the impact of their own
behavior and that of their societies, have access to accurate information
and skills to enable them to make environmentally sound decisions, and to
develop an environmental ethic to guide their actions.
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Content and Concepts of Geographical Education
Geography curricula around the world are commonly
structured in two main ways: as regional studies and as thematic studies.
At their best, both regional and thematic studies are strongly theory-oriented.
In the context of teaching children, theories are used to illuminate the real
world. In their studies, children should be encouraged to adopt a questioning or
enquiry approach which will lead them towards the statement and application of
generalizations and principles.
Regional Studies select from the following areas:
- Local community
- Home region
- Home country
- Home continent Other continents and regional
- The world
- Global structures
Principles guiding the selection of regions at
all levels may include:
- decentrism - regions should be chosen to
avoid national or continental centrism;
- motivation - regions should be chosen to
take account of students' interests and the actuality of current events;
- balance of scale - regions should be
selected to include experience of a range of scales from local to global;
- diversity - regions should be selected to
include a selection of contrasting places, various physical environments,
different human activities, cultures, socio-economic systems and stages of
development and sustainability;
- relevance - regions should be selected to
provide studies which are relevant to public, vocational and private life;
- responsibility - regions should be selected
to enable students to recognize and accept their responsibilities for action
at a range of scales from local to global.
Appreciation of both national identity and
international cooperation are important functions of regional studies. Regional
studies should encourage consideration of internationalization and globalization
whilst avoiding the pitfalls of regional separatism.
Thematic studies should always have a regional base. Thematic studies curricula
in geography may be classified as systematic, issues-based and systems
1) Systematic Approaches are concerned with physical and human geography
Physical Geography may include:
- climatic geography,
- physical ecology ...
Human Geography may include:
- population geography,
- economic geography,
- urban geography,
- social geography,
- historical geography,
- cultural geography,
- rural geography,
- political geography,
- human ecology ...
2) Issues Based Approaches are concerned
with the study of current issues and problems from a geographical point of view.
These may be at local, regional, national or global scales. Issues commonly
- environmental quality,
- socio -spatial disparities,
- hazards and disasters,
- global change,
- population dynamics,
- hunger in the world,
- energy management,
- inequalities in race, gender or religion,
- limits to growth,
- crisis regions (social, natural, economic),
- development problems and strategies,
- sustainable development ...
3) Systems Approaches are concerned with
teaching about physical systems, human systems and ecosystems.
Physical System include:
- geomorphic systems,
- soil systems,
- climatic systems,
- hydrological systems, and
- biotic systems.
Human Systems include social and
cultural processes in human organization such as:
- agricultural systems,
- industry and service systems,
- settlement systems,
- transport and trade systems,
- societal systems.
Current concerns for sustainable development may also be investigated through
the study of the integration of human and natural systems within an ecosystem.
Choice of approach
The preferred educational philosophy determines whether the above approaches are
combined or whether one only is selected. Whichever approach is adopted, studies
should encourage students to engage in questioning and enquiry. It is essential
that students develop the geographical skills of seeking solutions to current
and future problems in the organization of space. In this way, geography
curricula play a substantial role within political, social, ethical, personal,
humanistic, aesthetic and environmental education.
Principles and Strategies for Implementation
Geography should be taught in schools and colleges by trained specialist
teachers. Teachers are the most valuable resource in education. Because of
this and because of the complexity of geographical studies, well-trained,
specialist teachers are essential. In face of the challenges of our time
and of the objectives of geographical education described earlier,
geography teachers should be qualified not only in their discipline,
geography, but also in geographical education.
Through a program of initial teacher education and ongoing in-service
enhancement, geography teachers should progressively develop:
Knowledge and understanding of:
- the developing discipline of geography
(concepts, themes, attitudes and skills),
- the social contexts of education and
- students' needs, interests,
expectations and rights,
- how students learn (cognitive,
affective and psycho-motor domains),
- curriculum principles;
The skills of:
- lesson, unit, course and curriculum
- application of appropriate evaluation
- involving students in a range of
- selecting and using appropriate
resources and media,
- ongoing course evaluation and
Values and attitudes that foster:
- the potential of geography as a medium
- the geographical education of their
- personal and professional growth
within geographical education,
- the equal rights of all students to
effective geographical education;
An Independent Core Subject
In order to guarantee a sound preparation for the future, geography should
be considered as a core subject in both primary and secondary school
curricula. Teachers at primary level should be trained to teach geography.
At secondary level and above, it should be taught by specialist geography
teachers. Geography builds an interface or bridge between natural and
social sciences. Geographical questions may require reference to the
findings of other disciplines including geology, hydrology, biology,
history, sociology, politics and economics. Where local conditions require
that students at a particular age or phase follow a combined studies or
integrated studies curriculum, the precise contribution of geography
should be made explicit in the program, using the framework provided by
this International Charter.
Mandatory and Coherent Courses
It is essential that all students across the years of formal schooling
follow a continuous program of geographical studies. This will ensure that
geography's contribution to both general education and to students'
preparation for private and public life will be achieved.
Geography should be allocated time comparable to that given to other core
subjects in the curriculum. The timetable should provide regular geography
teaching sessions throughout the school year, with the facility for longer
periods of time to permit the completion of project work and field
studies. This is needed for teachers to develop sound geography
experiences to help students to respond to present and future challenges.
Teaching and Learning Materials
The use of quality media, both traditional and modern, is essential if
students are to gain realistic images of the earth. Geography must not be
regarded as a low cost subject. The international community of geography
educators should assist poorer countries to gain access to quality
teaching and learning materials.
Geography: A Subject for All
Geography has a significant role in the education of all students. Close
attention must be paid by curriculum planners to learners with special
needs as well as to the changing needs of students as they proceed in
While many aspects of geographical education are common to all stages, the
specific focus may change from primary, through secondary and higher
education to its role in vocational, adult and in-service education.
Young children like to learn-by-doing as they explore their surroundings.
They are also open to new experiences and, therefore, teaching about
people of other cultures, lifestyles and places should begin at this
stage. Thus, geographical education contributes to the basic ideas of the
United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child which states that:
''The child shall enjoy special protection, and shall be given
opportunities and facilities by law and other means to enable him [her] to
develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially in a
healthy and normal manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity."
As young people grow, their capacity for abstract thinking increases.
Practical experience may then be augmented by increasing use of more
abstract sources of information. In promoting concern for the future of
the global community, emphasis should be placed on avoiding a separation
of knowledge and behavior and encouraging environmental competence,
regional and national commitment and multicultural and international
Many of those who undertake higher education may adopt key decision-making
roles in society which require national and international perspectives and
environmental competence. Whatever their main discipline area, all courses
in higher education should include studies in geography to ensure that
graduates are geographically literate. This is especially important for
all those who intend to become teachers. It is advantageous for geography
teachers to have competence in a second language.
Adult and Community Learning
Geographical understanding contributes to the education of all people in
their daily lives. As workers, employers, consumers and citizens, people
must understand the international and environmental impacts of their
decisions. Only in this way international cooperation, sustainable
development and a more just world order will be attained.
The continued development of such understanding throughout the lives of
individuals should be achieved through the inclusion of a geographical
perspective within all forms of vocational, adult and in-service
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Research in Geographical Education
Research in Geographical Education focuses
on the improvement of the teaching and learning of geography in primary,
secondary, tertiary, vocational and adult education. It should also
contribute to the more general development of teaching and learning
theories. In order to achieve these ends, it is necessary to pursue both
basic and applied research.
Basic Research is involved with the development of the basic
theories of geographical education. It investigates fundamental aspects of
geographical education such as the development of children's spatial
understandings, perceptions of the environment and attitudes towards
people, places and problems.
Applied Research is concerned with appropriate practice in
geographical education such as the development and evaluation of teaching
methods and materials in fields including new information technologies,
environmental and development education, and multi-cultural and global
There should be close collaboration between researchers, teachers and
education systems in the selection of research questions and designs.
Applied research findings should also be disseminated effectively to
encourage appropriate implementation.
Research is an important aspect of the role of geographical education at
all levels. While empirical research may be undertaken primarily within
higher education institutions, classroom-based action research provides a
means for all teachers to contribute to the development and evaluation of
teaching programs, processes and resources. A full range of qualitative
and quantitative research approaches may be employed.
These may include:
- action research,
- empirical research,
- hermeneutic research...
The choice of methodology to be adopted
depends on the topic of the research and the questions to be investigated.
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Geographical Education makes a unique
contribution to the creation of global perspectives. In order to promote
international co-operation geographical educators should support the aims
of the Helsinki Accord (1977) to promote the bilateral or multilateral
exchange of experience, in teaching methods at all levels of education,
including compulsory, further and higher education, the exchange of
teaching materials, and the findings of research on curriculum
development, pedagogy, methods of evaluation and epistemology.
Geographical educators and teachers in all countries are encouraged to
promote such exchanges through the work of the Commission on
Geographical Education of the International Geographical Union and
through the many other international institutions and specific research
projects which have geographical relevance and an educational dimension.
Some of the international bodies and projects currently active are listed
in Appendix A to this document.
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This International Charter, drafted by
the International Geographical Union Commission on Geographical Education
and discussed with Geographical Educators around the world, was endorsed
by the General Assembly of the International Geographical Union at the
27th International Geographical Congress Washington, D.C., U.S.A. in
Accordingly, the International Geographical Union Commission on
Geographical Education proclaims this Charter to all governments and
peoples of the world and commends the principles and practices presented
in the charter as the basis on which sound geographical education in all
countries should be maintained.
Prof. Dr. Hartwig Haubrich
Chair, International Geographical Union
Commission on Geographical Education
Paedagogische Hochschule Freiburg
Kunzenweg 21 D-79117 Freiburg Germany
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