Task one: find a way to make geography popular
By Jordan Baker and Justin Norrie
October 19, 2005
A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but the question facing geography teachers is whether a dying subject by another name might make it more appealing to HSC students.
Geography, which began day two of the HSC exams yesterday, is suffering a steep decline in popularity.
In 2000, when the HSC was overhauled, 6420 sat geography. By 2003 the figure had fallen to 5623, and last year it was 4466. There was a slight jump this year but, as geographers know, one figure is not evidence of a new trend.
The Geography Teachers Association blames the fall on fatigue after compulsory study in years 7 to 10, a perception the subject is irrelevant and a growing number of HSC subject options. "The next thing is that the content in year 10 is Australian-based, and I think they get a bit sick of Australian content. They also do it in history," said the association's vice-president, Martin Pluss.
Kylie Leontaris, a geography teacher from St John Bosco College, argues that a name change may create new interest.
"Science changes to biology. We might need to change the title a bit, camouflage it a little bit. Something like 'environmental studies'," she said.
Ms Leontaris also believes recent exams have scared students off with "trick questions" and essays on obscure parts of the syllabus. She was nervous yesterday's exam would be more of the same, but was pleasantly surprised. "It was really straightforward and covered the main inquiry questions that are in the syllabus," she said.
Students and teachers described the paper - involving maths questions about gradients and vertical exaggeration and essays on ecosystems and urbanisation - as tough but fair.
Lauren Ross, 18, of Caringbah High School, said: "I thought it was surprising because, personally, I didn't expect those essay questions, but I still thought they were fair." Lauren said she was glad she studied geography. "It was my favourite subject. It gives you a good basic knowledge to approach everyday life with."
�* Schools should be able to recruit qualified professionals and train them as teachers on the job if education departments are serious about tackling teacher shortages, says Jennifer Buckingham of the Centre for Independent Studies. She suggests that offering a system like a paid internship would ensure professionals do not have to sacrifice a year's salary while studying teaching at university.