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Mirek Dymitrow


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Geography’s three problems seen through the prism of one educational challenge


  • Mirek Dymitrow
  • Rene Brauer

Summary, in English

As the modern society becomes larger and increasingly diverse, its problems become more elusive and solutions far-fetched. This puts pressure on relevant education. Geographical knowledge, whose raison d’être has always been to deal with complexity, should therefore be in high demand, but isn’t. In this presentation we want to investigate why this is the case, by outlining three major problems geography education faces today and what potential solutions there might be. #1) Geography as a societal need: Geography’s traditional status as a synthesizing science is not well translated to the “sustainability mindset” that currently saturates educational curricula. This leads to decreasing numbers of geography students who seek out explicitly “sustainability-oriented” courses, which are often taught by teachers without a solid synthesizing background. Simultaneously, geography’s potential is reduced at pre-university levels where it is still associated with a stereotype (mostly cartography and ‘pub quiz’ knowledge). #2) Geography as an identity: Being “a specialist on being a generalist” is a frustrating motto for many geography students, who are inculcated that expertise is usually vertical. Inability to capitalize on horizontal expertise causes a personal crisis that impedes learning and embracing geography as a professional identity. #3 Geography as a competence: Being a holistic “for real” cannot be reduced to knowing a multitude of facts but requires foremost an understanding of how differences in opinion (underlying diametrically different sustainability strategies and solutions) arise. This requires a broad epistemological base. However, philosophy of science is not taught at pre-graduate level, while new students are becoming increasingly opinionated on contested topics. Departing from teaching experience at 4 Nordic universities, we suggest adding a “sensitizing phase” to the most critical stages of geography’s first-year education. A sensitizing phase is a targeted and deepened/extended course introduction, designed to a) focus on the strengths of geography and its boundaries to other realms of knowledge; b) providing continuous moral support to students to instill geography’s identity; c) teaching techniques how to handle complexity (knowledge reduction, extrapolation, epistemological breadth). We conclude that this approach allays confusion, primes the students towards the relevance of geography knowledge, and inculcates them into a spirit of life-long learning.


  • Institutionen för kulturgeografi och ekonomisk geografi






Konferensbidrag: abstract


  • Social and Economic Geography
  • Educational Sciences


  • geography
  • education
  • learning
  • societal need
  • identity
  • competence

Conference name

Nordic Geographers’ Meeting

Conference date

2022-06-19 - 2022-06-22

Conference place

Joensuu, Finland