Spatial thinking is one of the fundamental forms of intelligence needed to function in modern society, and that the development of such skills should be part of everyone’s education. (Michael Goodchild)
Spatial thinking is the catalyst to improve understanding of subjects across the curriculum and as a way of thinking that crosses disciplinary boundaries (Bednarz).
A European priority
Almost all aspects of our economy and society are based on geoinformation and geotechnologies. More than 80% of all information produced today had a geospatial component. Citizens are being empowered by geospatial technologies and geodata, not simply ICT. People are tracking, mapping and communicating geographically on an unprecedented scale.
The Eurogeographics Association (http://eurogeographics.org
/) confirmed that the sector is booming: employment rose to about 550,000 in 2014, despite the crisis. However there is a clear mismatch between workforce
demand and supply. The GI sector is in many countries a shortage occupation sector. An inquiry in Flanders for example showed that on average every year only 1/3 of the available jobs is filled due to lack of students leaving high school or university without the necessary skills and knowledge. This is a big problem, not only for those companies, but also for our society as every year a lot of students finish their studies but don’t find a job.
Many GI Science study programmes are dealing with informatics, but it appears that they focus more on informatics than on the scientific background of spatial thinking. GI Science is almost never really taught.
Unknown is unloved: If we can introduce the use of GI Science in secondary education, we may not only show its importance for todays’ society, we might even persuade youngsters to choose a study that deals with GI Science, thus increasing dramatically their chance of finding a good job.
So we need policy developments that build a European education/training system with the capacity and capability to raise awareness of the GI sector, create a geospatially literate workforce and European citizens who can benefit from these developments.
The major outcome of our project will deliver material for rewriting the curricula end educational programmes in favor of pupils and thus for their future and employment in tomorrow’s society.
One of the priorities of the European Union the last decade has been the promotion of “digital literacy.” This relates to the ability to use ICT and the Internet as a new form of literacy. According to the European Commission, it is fast becoming a prerequisite for creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship and without it citizens can neither participate fully in society nor acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to live in the 21st century. Integrating digital competences can be understood in many different ways, from the most restrictive, such as the uses of computers, e-learning and Internet, to some other definitions that situate it close to a broader training and general preparation for life (literacy) in the age digital.
The following comment by Martin (2010) summarises the issue: “Digital integration concerns the awareness, attitude and ability of individuals to appropriately use digital tools and facilities to identify, access, manage, integrate, evaluate, analyse and synthesize digital resources, construct new knowledge, create media expressions, and communicate with others, in the context of specific life situations, in order to enable constructive social action; but also to reflect upon this process.”
The priority concerns acquiring and using knowledge and techniques, but also is related to attitudes and personal qualities, and incorporates the ability to plan, execute and evaluate digital actions in the solution of life tasks, and the ability to reflect on one’s own digital personal and professional development.
Description of the project
Spatial thinking using GIScience tools is integral to everyday life. With the use of online mapping tools, GPS and car navigation the general public has become aware of the possibilities of spatial data. It is the concept of space that makes spatial thinking a distinct form of thinking. It is a basic and essential skill that can and should be learned, alongside other skills like language, mathematics and science.
Based on a US Department of Labor study, Gewin (2004) proposed in ‘Nature’ that GIScience (with related spatial thinking skills) would become one of three most significant technological advances for economic development in the next decade. Since then, in the United States there has been a strong lobby for geospatial education, resulting in Congress acknowledging the significance of the National Academies Press publication “Learning to Think Spatially” (National Research Council, 2006). This has transformed the US research and education technology agenda and, as a result, the National Science Foundation (2011) recently awarded significant grants to geospatial education research. In Europe most developments have been small scale, and without backing from political stakeholders.
The knowledge and capability to use GIScience and Geographical Information (GI) is not only essential as a basic skill, it also offers significant job opportunities. The Eurogeographics Association (http://eurogeographics.org/) that in the last 5 years the Geographic Information Sector in Europe is booming: employment rose to about 550,000 in 2014, dispite the crisis.
However there is a clear mismatch between workforce demand and supply. The GI sector is in many countries a shortage occupation sector. An inquiry in Flanders e.g. showed that on average every year only 1/3 of the avialable jobs is filled in due to lack of students leaving high school or university with the necessary skills and knowledge. This is a big problem, not only for those companies, but also for our society where every year a lot of students finish their studies bit don’t find a job.
So we must increase education activities to produce the workforce we need now and for the future. The goal is to integrate spatial literacy, spatial thinking and GIScience into schools
Bednarz & van der Schee (2006) made 3 recommendations for a successful introduction and integration of GIScience in schools:
1) Address the key internal issues related to GIS implementation: teacher training, availability of user friendly software, ICT equipment in schools.
2) Use a community of learners approach.
3) Institutionalize GIScience into curricula, making sure that it is aligned with significant general learning goals like graphicacy, critical thinking and citizenship skills.
In terms of the first two recommendations a lot of progress has already been made:
1) There have been training opportunities for teachers (e.g. iGuess project), schools nowadays generally have good ICT equipment and software, and data are more widely and freely available.
2) The Digital-Earth.eu network has launched in many countries, and designated a number of ‘Centres of Excellence’. These centres help building up the community of geomedia learners, e.g. by collecting and disseminating good practice examples and organizing informal sessions with teachers.
Nevertheless surveys done by the Digital-earth.eu network (2012) and Ghent University (2014) indicate teachers’ request for more training, teaching materials, good practices and a comprehensive and well-structured compilation of digital-earth tools.
3) The third recommendation is still critical. The notion of GIScience, GI or spatial thinking is uncommon in almost every country. (iGuess report, Donert et al, 2009).
Some steps have been achieved:
– a benchmark statement has been developed (Herodot Network, 2008; digital-earth.eu network 2013), intended to give a rationale and recommendations on the implementation to teacher trainers, teachers and headmasters, but also to policy and decision makers.
– Competencies mentioned in the benchmarks have been translated into a basis for a learning line (Woloszynska et al 2013; Zwartjes, 2014) whereby teachers need to be able to choose suitable tools to use, based on the abilities of their students, their own capabilities and their curriculum.
These steps showed the importance and possibilities, but remained to much for the small group of early adaptors. If we want to overcome the shasm in introducing GIScience in schools we must introduce and institutionalize it inside the curricula of the schools. This must be done taken into account the level of difficulty connected to the age group. The main focus of the project will therefore be the development of a real learning line on GIScience in education. We need to translate the competencies – taking into account age and level – into real learning objectives in a number of different subjects.