AGI Scotland

RSGS Geography Education workshop

One of geography’s great strengths is its diversity, but its ubiquitous nature becomes a problem when trying to relate our subject to a career. Because its challenging to give a two-minute elevator-pitch for geography we fail in the eyes of parents and careers advisors.  How do we attract school pupils towards geography if we have to give a long and imprecise list of potential jobs?  There have never been roles as a ‘geographer’ in the way companies would employ a ‘biologist’ or ‘engineer’.

However, the world of GIS or geospatial has changed that; suddenly the geographer is centre-stage in an industry worth £6 billion annually.  If a pupil likes maps and thinks computers are cool then this industry offers well-paid jobs in a sector growing at 10% per year. The link is symbiotic; geography showcases global and local problems seeking solutions, while IT and data science represents a basket of solutions looking for problems.

Location Data Scotland (created by the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise and the Geospatial Commission) is nurturing GIS industry growth in Scotland, but we need to develop home-grown talent and create a more diverse workforce that is currently dependent on Masters-level graduates from a few universities (including my own).

Working together, LDS, the Association for Geographic Information in Scotland and the University of Edinburgh have taken on this challenge and are creating partnerships to overcome obstacles, build the necessary infrastructure and frame a consistent message.  We need to provide other routes into the geospatial profession which will be attractive to under-represented groups, while realising the positive gender balance often experienced in geography courses can bring women into IT.

Its not about teaching GIS in the curriculum, that’s hard for teachers and largely unnecessary, its about getting pupils to think spatially and enthusing them to understand, create and use maps.  These geospatial skills are applicable well beyond geography and geography teachers can put themselves centre-stage by reaching out to their colleagues in english, maths, history, biology, business management, even PE and art & design, as well as educating their guidance / careers colleagues in terms of the opportunities available.

As Michael Palin noted more than a decade ago (*1): “geography students hold the key to the world’s problems”

Written By Bruce Gittings, AGI Scotland Chair.