Three phases of GeoCapabilities
The GeoCapabiliites project is about applying a human capabilities lens to the discipline of Geography to examine ways in which school geography can contribute to developing the capabilities young people need to live a life that they value. The project sees geographical knowledge as a powerful educational resource when the child’s needs are foregrounded, ‘enabling’ them in many ways – for example to participate in big debates, sort truth from fiction, know their world at different scales and to open real choices about how to live.
GeoCapabilities phase 1 (2013-15) developed a theoretical basis for arguing the potential of Geographic Capabilities. In this phase the discipline of geography was connected to ideas of human capabilities by asking questions such as ‘In what ways is human development diminished if geography is absent or poorly provided for in formal education?’ This phase reinforced the importance of teachers as ‘curriculum makers’ emphasising the needs of the child (who are the children we teach?) and the ‘powerful disciplinary knowledge’ (PDK) of geography (what should we teach and how?).
GeoCapabilities phase 2 project (2015-18) developed online professional development materials for teachers to understand these nuanced ideas of subject knowledge, curriculum and education for human capabilities and put them into practice. It did so by developing a series of modules with exemplars for teachers (these are still relevant and available) and they complement the phase 3 aspects of the GeoCapabilities website. During phase 2, there was also further theoretical research into the educational potential of GeoCapabilities (see Bustin 2019).
GeoCapabilities phase 3 (2018-2021) examined how GeoCapabilities can work in practice. The project is a pan-European collaboration of EUROGEO, university geography educators and associate teachers in England, France, Belgium, Netherlands and the Czech Republic.
Phase three focused on a single geographical topic – teaching migration, and applied the lens of social justice to the potential of GeoCapabilities. In essence this phase has asked – how helpful is GeoCapabilities for teachers in state schools under ‘common’ pressures? And it asks what is the social justice dimension to GeoCapabilities?
The teachers involved were all working in state schools, in low or mixed socio-economic catchment areas which are challenged, either directly or indirectly, by de-industrialisation. Accountability for exam results limits their curriculum making freedom in these schools (see Cassinader, Mitchell and Hammond, 2020) making them good sites to ‘test’ the difference a GeoCapabilities approach can make.
This phase also established a way of thinking about ‘subject knowledge’ in GeoCapabilities through PDK as disciplinary but also dynamic, open and evolving – a ‘future 3’ version of curriculum (see Young and Muller 2009).
So GeoCapabilities 3 has asked, does GeoCapabilities have a social justice dimension?
GeoCapabilities has become an important geographical education approach used in many countries around the world. It is directly used in schools and teacher training across Europe, Americas, Asia and Australia with related applied research. This activity expands knowledge about the benefits and limitations of using the GeoCapabilities approach. The GeoCapabilities 3 project has produced an extended bibliography of published research.