The International Geographical Union (IGU) recently drafted a new International Charter on Geographical Education. This important document was originally written and endorsed in 1992; the new draft has been updated and includes an action plan. I believe five aspects to this document have implications for all those who are using GIS to teach students of all ages to think critically, deeply, and spatially about their world:
1. The document reaffirms that geography is the discipline that deals with spatial variability. Many who are teaching with GIS today are from the disciplines of biology, history, hydrology, business, and even language arts and mathematics. Our community of GIS educators has been greatly enriched by these disciplines, but the IGU document makes it clear that it is the geographical perspective operating in those disciplines that is core to the study of spatial variability.
2. The document reaffirms the ongoing belief by those inside (and some outside) the discipline of geography that geographical education is neglected in some parts of the world, and lacks structure and support in others. Geography should be "regarded as an essential part of the education of all citizens in all societies." Part of the urgency of teaching with and about GIS is a belief that the themes of geography itself, including climate, food security, overexploitation of natural resources, and urbanization, all mentioned in the Charter, are the most important issues facing 21st Century societies. The Charter mentions the "consequences [that come] from our everyday decisions." I believe thatstudents who use GIS are enabled to see connections between eocregions and precipitation, between agriculture and population growth, between land use and economic policy, and so much more.
3. The 2016 charter addresses policy makers, education leaders, curriculum planners, and geography educators to help to ensure that all people receive an "effective and worthwhile geographical education" and to help geography educators "counteract geographical illiteracy." Those of us on the Esri education outreach team and thousands more in the GIS and geography education community have been working across many levels to help these groups of people understand why and how geography can be effectively taught and learned by applying the systems thinking, tools, and methodologies that come with Geographic Information Systems (GIS).
4. The Charter also mentions that geographical education "satisfies and nourishes curiosity." My colleague Charlie Fitzpatrick long ago began calling GIS a "thinker's tool". Teaching and learning with GIS cannot happen unless students are thinking, asking questions, and testing their hypotheses. Teaching with GIS allows the educator and student to explore the "what if" questions by changing the number, types, and weights of variables, by changing the classification method, by changing the scale, and by changing the methods used.
5. The Charter also makes it clear that geography education can be advanced if important research questions in geographical education are asked and answered through a rigorous research program. The Charter states that such a program needs to be addressed by an international group of colleagues, which my colleagues and I addressed in one way by encouraging an international agenda and center for GIS education.
I believe that the Charter lends strength and vision not only to the case of why geographical education is important, but also why we need to be using inquiry-driven methods of instruction and solving real geographical problems. I believe this can be effectively done using GIS in education and in society.