School of Earth & Environmental Sciences
Smith, Heather, Perceptions of Geography as a vocation: a study of secondary school students in the Illawarra and South East region of New South Wales, BSc Hons, School of Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong, 2009.
The number of students in NSW studying Geography in the senior years of high school has declined significantly since the 1990s. A number of reasons for the decline in candidature have been suggested in the literature, including: a lack of teachers trained in Geography; an increase in the number of competing subjects; a lack of knowledge of the discipline; irrelevant or boring syllabus content; and negative student perceptions. Limited research has examined how students understand Geography, specifically in terms of its vocational value. Accordingly, this thesis analyses how students and teachers understand Geography. Its two key research questions are:
1. to what extent, and how, do high school students and teachers understand Geography as a vocation? And
2. do high school students’ understandings of Geography as a vocation influence their selection of Geography as a subject in the senior years of schooling?
During 2007, 188 Year 10 and 11 students, and 21 teachers, from four schools in the Illawarra and South East Region of NSW completed a short questionnaire, which examined understandings of Geography as a vocation and a subject. Results from this exercise were that in a broad sense, students and teachers have good knowledge of Geography related careers, and of the high employability of Geographers – although they only proffered this knowledge when prompted. Geography was rarely listed when student and teacher participants were asked what school subjects they considered useful for getting a job, without subject-specific prompts. Additionally, survey results showed that although students understood Geography as a diverse subject, they were more inclined to describe it negatively than positively. Although a core group of ‘converts’ rated Geography as interesting, relevant and fun, overwhelmingly a majority of students considered high school Geography to be uninteresting, irrelevant and boring.
This thesis concludes that the decline in the numbers of senior high school students studying Geography in NSW is not likely a result of the subject being considered of little vocational value, but rather, as a combination of two key trends: most students simply do not like Geography as currently taught in high school, and choose other, competing subjects considered more interesting, or more vocationally relevant, before Geography – even if they have been made aware that Geography does lead to rewarding careers.