Compulsory “geography” in high school will no longer be a subject that requires meticulous memorizing, but one that provides a unique pleasure

April 12, 2019

Compulsory “geography” in high school will no longer be a subject that requires meticulous memorizing, but one that provides a unique pleasure

Takashi Nakazawa
Professor, School of Business Administration,
Meiji University
 

Geography will become a compulsory subject in high school in 2022. Why is this happening? When we think about its meaning and significance, we soon start seeing the challenges for those of us who live in a modern society.

Have a perspective that opens outward beyond a spatial axis through “geography”

Many people may think of “geography” as a boring subject that requires memorizing trivial facts such as producing areas of certain products, place names, etc.

Admittedly, the subject of geography requires a lot of memorization of the characteristics of regions. You may wonder what good it will do to learn about regions to which you have never been or you will probably never go.

“Geography,” which will be a compulsory subject in high school starting in FY2022, will be different from conventional “geography.” First, the subject name will change to “comprehensive geography.” The goal of this new subject is “to raise a citizen with the qualities required of an active member of the global society, as the shaper of a peaceful, democratic nation and community.”

In a sense, this goal is broad and can be applied to every subject. However, when thinking of it more plainly, as an issue close to us, we can see a slightly different picture.

One example is the influx of foreign workers in Japan. We have a growing number of foreigners at work and in local communities.

When you meet such foreigners, do you ever think why they had to come to Japan, or why their customs are different from those of the Japanese? Have you ever had an interest in them?

In fact, such interest will connect you to life in a global society, that is, a multicultural coexistence. Indifference does not encourage an inclusive mindset. Rather, it leads to exclusiveness.

Then how can we get interested? That is where the significance of studying “geography” lies. By studying “geography,” you will learn to nurture your imagination about places you have never been before.

You will understand better if you take “history” as an example. Those like us who live in a modern society cannot experience firsthand events that occurred in the Heian or Edo eras. However, by studying the “history,” we will be able to exercise our imagination which can allow us to transcend a temporal axis. Similarly, we can think about “geography” beyond a spatial axis.

By transcending a spatial axis, we will be able to literally broaden our horizons further. This will get us interested in foreigners who come to Japan. It will also help us to develop a relative perspective toward the current way we live our lives.

For example, you may be living in a small house or an apartment in Tokyo, and may be forced to compete daily among many people you do not know. Even if you find your life difficult, you may convince yourselves thinking this is how people live.

However, there are different ways of living in regional cities and rural areas. You will understand the close link between your lifestyle and the place you live through the study of “geography.”

Then you will come to understand that the way you live now is not everything. To have a perspective that open outwards for the way you live will provide more options and open a lot of doors for you.
Active learning facilitated by new “comprehensive geography”

Three main learning categories for “comprehensive geography” have been established to promote learning that I pointed above.

The first category is “modern society grasped by maps and geographic information systems.” Geographic information systems include computer programs such as Google Earth which we use on a daily basis. How students should read such geographic information including maps will be a key point for learning.

In recent years, software that can map statistics has become a part of our daily life and practical utilization is expected. For example, conventionally, data can only be visualized in a numerical table, or an item-to-item line or circle graph. However, today, a thematic map, in which data aligned with the spatial axis are visualized, can be easily created.

On a thematic map, it is easier to intuitively grasp difference between regions. It helps you to focus more on the causes for the difference between regions.

The second category is “international understanding and cooperation.” Students will learn to understand the problems facing Japan where globalization is proceeding rapidly and examine approaches to solve those problems.

Although this may appear to be a major theme, as I stated earlier, we can start with something familiar to us in our daily life.

The ultimate purpose is to recognize that the earth is filled with a variety of colorful lifestyles, to value such diversity, and to acknowledge how wonderful it is to live here.

The Japanese government puts weight on fostering patriotism. A withdrawn, exclusionary attitude does not elicit patriotism in the true sense. You will be able to derive the meaning of living on this earth today by developing a relative perspective and respecting others.

The third category is “sustainable community development and us.” This has something in common with the sustainable development goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations. We can also start such learning with issues familiar to us.

For example, what can we do to protect our community from natural disasters? We will need to conduct a survey of the area. Getting out of the classroom to stroll through the town is also a way to learn. This will lead to active leaning in which students will set themselves an agenda to work on.

As just described, a clear line is drawn between “comprehensive geography” and conventional “geography” which requires memorization. Whether “comprehensive geography” is successfully introduced into the curriculum or not is contingent upon high school teachers’ abilities as well as whole concept of college entrance examinations which is the goal of students. It will also be a challenge for people like us who are involved in geography as a field of study.

Adults should relearn “geography” as it becomes compulsory for high school students

If someone asks what “geography” is, it is very difficult to answer. In fact, there is a definition of geography: A field of study to describe and explain why a certain thing exists in a certain form in a certain place. Then, if someone asks what the benefits of studying “geography” are, we cannot really answer that question easily.

This is perhaps the reason the number of students who major in geography and become geography teachers has declined considerably. As geography will become a compulsory subject in high school, I have been assigned to be one of the authors to elaborate a new textbook. Actually, this made me seriously think about the meaning of studying “geography” once again.

My actual field of specialization is “economic geography.” I named the new class I will teach at Meiji University “Geography on Home and Work.”

Why did I choose “home and work?” Because “house and labor” is a commodity which can be a subject of formal economic analysis. However, I believe the fundamental meaning of economics ultimately lies in the fact that people live among people as humans while relying on the natural environment for their livelihood.

Home and work form a vital part of economics in terms of living life, and this comes in different forms from region to region. Home and work in Tokyo and local regions are different and are unique to respective locations.

To study the relation between “home and work” and location is an important theme for me, and I think this will lead to an answer to what “geography” is.

In short, the “study of geography” is a “way of viewing” or a “perspective.” “Jurisprudence” is intended for studying laws, and “biology” is intended for studying living organism. However, geography is not an academic field that comprises subjects to be studied. Rather, everything can be a subject to be studied since they are all geographical existences.

The “study of geography” is made up of perspectives, and to study “geography” means to develop those perspectives. That is where “geography” gets its appeal. While at the same time, that is why it is hard to describe what “geography” really is in a single word.

On the other hand, in recent years TV programs that introduce local towns have become very popular. Viewers’ interest and curiosity in those towns, streets, livelihood, people’s mentality, culture and cuisine which are all different from their own towns must make the programs more exciting to watch.

This is another fun aspect of “geography.” Some TV personalities have a substantial geographical knowledge and are very good at introducing towns in a precise and entertaining manner. In that sense, I would like all high school students to learn “comprehensive geography” while having fun without worrying about the goal for this subject set up by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

Unfortunately, because “geography” has long been excluded from compulsory subjects, some surveys indicate that there are many high school students who cannot answer exactly where foreign countries are located. Recently, many more books about “geography” for adults to enjoy learning have been published. So, I urge them to relearn “geography” as it will soon become compulsory for high school students.

* The information contained herein is current as of March 2019.
* The contents of articles on Meiji.net are based on the personal ideas and opinions of the author and do not indicate the official opinion of Meiji University.

Profile

Takashi Nakazawa
Professor, School of Business Administration

Research fields:
Economic geography

Research themes:
Geography of labor, transformation of regional and urban structure in modern Japan

Main books and papers:
◆“Sumai to Shigoto no Chirigaku” (Geography on Home and Work) Junposha, 2019
◆“Economic Geography of Labor” Nihon Keizai Hyoronsha, 2014
◆“Shokugyo Kyaria no Kukan-teki Kiseki” (The Spatial Track of a Professional Career) Daigaku Kyoiku Shuppan, 2008

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