Envisioning Futures in School Geography

Research output: PhD ThesisPhD-Thesis - Research and graduation internal

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Summary Introduction Geography education aims to teach students how the world works. This is an important ambition, but, given the current global issues, it can no longer be considered sufficient. In order to make sense of the fast changing world, with issues such as climate change and food security, geography education also needs to look ahead. What future times can be expected, based on current knowledge? And what alternative ‘futures’ can be thought of, if not only knowledge is used, but also imagination? What futures are preferred, by whom and why? And what could be first steps in the preferred direction? For the exploration of such questions, geography education offers students a suitable knowledge and skill base. Students can learn to consider future worlds, from local to global, taking into account multiple dimensions such as nature, culture, economy and politics. The geography education literature offers concepts and innovative approaches that can support futures-oriented geography teaching and learning, but these are currently underused. In many lessons, the description and explanation of the current world leaves little room for the exploration of futures. A scientific discipline that can be of help is futures studies and its subdiscipline, futures education. In these fields, concepts and approaches are being developed that stimulate the study, imagination, and evaluation of multiple futures. The present study intends to clarify how school geography can become more futures oriented, by integrating expertise from the field of futures studies and futures education. The central research question is: How can students’ envisioning of futures in school geography be enhanced? An answer to this question was developed in several phases in this thesis. Conclusion This study showed how students in geography lessons − under specific conditions, in a well-considered approach − were able to think about multiple futures. In terms of content, the approach (developed in the explorative design study) was characterized by the use of both knowledge and imagination while thinking about multiple alternatives for tomorrow’s cities. In terms of the teaching and learning method, the approach was characterized by the balanced integration of students’ self-guidance and teacher’s guidance. Although students were able to develop scenarios, the open kind of teaching and learning required for futures exploration was difficult for both students and teachers. Futures-oriented geography education requires clear, feasible steps towards more open and explorative learning about futures, and this study aims to give examples of such steps. The difficulties that were met during futures-oriented education in this study were consistent with previous research. Higher-order thinking is, even apart from taking futures into account, difficult for students. The extent to which students showed futures awareness seemed to be a matter of both their ability − more cognitively connoted, by having the necessary knowledge, skills and imagination – and willingness − more affectively connoted, by making the effort to share their thoughts about futures. It is important to note that futures thinking about geographical issues will remain challenging, even with ability and willingness. The Covid-19 pandemic illustrates how complex it is to find appropriate responses to such a complex, uncertain global issue. Besides confirming the difficulty of futures exploration in school geography, the present study provides an analysis of these difficulties and an approach, consisting of design principles and a lesson series that aims to stimulate others to practice and develop futures-oriented school geography.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  • Beneker, Tineke, Supervisor, External person
  • Meeter, Martijn, Supervisor
  • van der Schee, Joop Willem, Co-supervisor
Award date9 Dec 2021
Place of PublicationAmsterdam
Publication statusPublished - 9 Dec 2021


  • Geography education
  • Futures
  • Envisioning
  • Scenarios
  • Student voice
  • Scaffolding
  • Knowledge
  • Imagination
  • Values


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