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States and Regions
Zavod RS za solstvo, OE Kranj
EUROPEAN DIMENSION IN GEOGRAPHY TEACHING IN SLOVENIAN SCHOOLS
HOW TO UNDERSTAND THE »EUROPEAN DIMENSION« ?
The European dimension is the notion that is not clearly defined. It was first used by the Council of Europe in the 80s, when seminars for teachers from European countries were organized with the assistance of the Council for Cultural Co-operation. The participants among other things discussed how they understood that notion. The European dimension in teaching was also included in the content of the Council of Europe conferences (e.g. Geographical Information and Documentation on European Countries, in Utrecht). Numerous recommendations on the subject were given to the educational authorities of the member countries.
I first came into contact with the »European dimension« and the Council of Europe in 1991, when Slovenia was still part of Yugoslavia. Slovenian teachers had no or very little idea about the Council of Europe before that date. In 1991 I took part in a seminar, called »La dimension européenne en géographie: une échelle parmi d'autres - European Dimension of Geography: one Level among the Others«, organized in Donaueschingen in Germany. Three years later I took part in the follow-up seminar, called »Le développement des ressources pédagogiques pour enseigner la dimension européenne à l'école«. It was then that I learnt that the Council of Europe had been organizing such seminars for several years (the one I refer to was the fifty-second).
The aim of those seminars was the confrontation of attitudes towards the school subjects in different countries and within different school systems, mainly those that can contribute to the preparation of the young generation for their life in the united Europe, which means democratic Europe with free transfer of ideas, goods and manpower. Geography is one of such subjects.
The participants of the Donaueschingen seminar were geography (and French) teachers from the countries belonging to the European Union, and I was the only one who came from a country outside the Union. I realized that, in fact, there were two Europes: one with mutual integration and development, considering itself the »real«, democratic, developed and »civilised« Europe, and the other, which was outside those trends. Such subjective feelings were indirectly confirmed by the new Atlas of European Dimension, published in France and presented at the seminar. It contained maps showing the structure of the population, economy, traffic, and environment in Europe, but only in the countries of the European Union, other countries being only delimited by border lines. So the European dimension ended on the borders of former socialist countries.
In that way the European dimension is not European in the geographical meaning of the term. As for me, the boundaries of Europe have always been along the Ural Mountains, and the Caspian Sea and Caucasus in the south; although the boundaries there are a little vague, I have always considered myself to be European. The atlas told me that I belonged to a different, peripheral Europe. But the fact that I was there proved that there was a way, leading to the »real« Europe, also for us, coming from the periphery.
THE NOTION OF EUROPE
One of the aims of the Donaueschingen seminar was the confrontation and explanation of different attitudes towards the notions of Europe and that of the European dimension. An interesting approach was chosen: the participants, who had been asked to bring pictures from their respective countries, wrere divided into groups, and then they selected the motives that represented Europe. The outcome showed that Europe is very heterogeneous and varied in national, linguistic and cultural sense, with great contrasts in climate and the surface. In the end all groups agreed on the motives of catholic churches, bells, and the old town centres (they did not accept a mosque from Sarajevo).
The conclusion: Europe is determined by more or less uniform territory, developed under the influence of Christianity and feudalism. It is divided into the central part and the surrounding areas which have always been more or less isolated.
THE NOTION OF EUROPEAN DIMENSION
The European dimension in teaching geography was understood in several ways by the participants of the seminar. The representative of Great Britain, for example, claimed that teaching about the European institutions is the essential element of European dimension. The others found its aim much more complex: to organize the teaching in such a way that it will help to build up young people as European citizens, by choosing proper content, methods and message.
My personal view on the European dimension in teaching geography:
Geography is a subject which can build up and consolidate one's identity as member of one's own nation and culture, but at the same time it can teach how to learn about members of other nations and cultures, and how to respect them. The knowledge about the countries of our continent and about their position should be part of general knowledge of high school students, and, of course, of everybody who gets into contact with foreigners: border police and customs-officers, people working in traffic or tourism, post-office clerks, etc. It need not be stressed that it is also essential for people engaged in diplomacy and European institutions.
Not long ago I received a letter from the Centre for European culture in Santiago de Compostela in Spain, sent to my address with »SLO - Slovaquie«. Such things often happen, which shows the necessity for increasing the presence of European dimension in teaching geography.
Another reason lies in the fact that the ignorance of other cultures leads to xenophobia and underestimation of everything that is not »ours«, national - it leads to nacionalism, chauvinism, and military encounters.
The features and processes are best learnt on local examples that can be directly studied. If the regional and universal dimensions are added, the students realize that the problems are more complex than they appeared at first sight; apparently good short-term solutions can later become harmful. In that way the students master the interdisciplinary approach, critical thinking, and are able to form their own opinions.
European dimension can only be developed by modern teaching, using active methods and techniques of teaching and learning, which demand complex thinking on the side of the students, and justification of their statements; it is not just memorisation and reproduction of facts, details or principles.
The pollution of the air, water and the ground has global extention and threatens to cause even greater problems in the near future. The way of teaching, by means of which the students can understand the whole complexity of this problem, must lead to asking themselves how to change their own behaviour, in order to stop the negative trends, and not just thinking of other people's duties.
Europe without borders will no doubt cause greater mobility of population. This will also force countries with more homegenous population to face the problem of immigrants of different nationality, culture, religion.The absence of education for coexistence can result in new social and political troubles. Slovenia, with the population of two million, now faces the problem of clandestine immigration; people fron various countries try to get to Western Europe. The reactions of the Slovenian population show a great del of intolerance, and remind us that more should be done to make people conscious of human rights.
Formation and expression of national and cultural identity of an individual as a member of a nation in the process of European integration.
EUROPEAN DIMENSION IN SLOVENIAN SCHOOLS
The above mentioned aims in geography teaching can be achieved under the following conditions:
In the course of the Donaueschingen seminar we could realize that the number of teaching hours differs considerably within the curricula of different European countries. In some countries geography has an important role in the school curricula, while in others, mainly Mediterranean countries (Cyprus, Spain, Greece, Italy), it is disappearing as an independent school subject.
In some countries the stress is on the relation between man and nature, which brings forth the ecological problems. In other countries priority is given to economy and organization of space at a local, regional, or national level. The approach can be systematic and treats the home country and the continents according to the principle »from nearer to farher«; it can also be thematic, and it makes problem-solving teaching possible. The differencies are the result of tradition; they have cultural, historical and pedagogical background, and they cannot simply be compared.
In Slovenia geography is an independent school subject from grade 6 to grade 8 (or grade 9) of primary school, in high school, and in most 4-year professional schools. The geography teachers are not satisfied with this solution, according to them geography should be included in all secondary school curricula.
Slovenian syllabuses for teaching geography are made in that way that they respect the principles of systematicness and spiral superposition and extension learning objectives.
GLOBAL TARGETS OF GEOGRAPHY TEACHING in SLOVENIA
*teaching hours (lessons)
The teaching of geography starts in grade 6 (the age of pupils: 12 years), and is extended to the end of primary school. The teaching is based on the knowledge, acquired by the pupils in previous grades (learning about nature and learning about social phenomena in local environment).
While learning about the position of the Earth in the Space, about the continents, Europe and Slovenia, the pupils develop spatial notions about the local region, the home country, Europe, and the world; they acquire knowledge about geographical notions, processes and phenomena, and they learn how to think and make conclusions, find and determine places on the map, communicate, work in groups, or perform in front of their school mates and teachers.
To what extent the declared teaching objectives are fullfilled in practice, depends primarily on the qualification, ambition and creativity on the side of the teacher. A lot has recently been done in the field of professional development of teachers; advisers of Zavod RS za solstvo (Slovenian Educational Institute) , assisted by some chosen teachers, invite the teachers three times a year to tke part in so-called study groups, where they can improve their knowledge about modern teaching techniques and evaluation. The primary school pupils acquire the basic knowledge about European countries and regions, about population, economy, and current problems.
Regional geography of Europe is only included in high school syllabus, and in the programme of tourism (25% of students). There are 70 teaching hours in each of the first three years, but in the final year it is only taught to the students who chose geography as a »matura« subject. The students learn about Europe at the end of the second and at the beginning of the third year (about 50 hours).
According to the syllabus European dimension can be included in teaching, at least the data about Europe, European countries, their natural features, population, economic development, and other problems. But it is more difficult to attain other aims, as there is not enough time. With the introduction of external evaluation at the »matura« exam it is possible to observe the change in teaching methods; teachers try to use time economically, which reduces the possibility of interdisciplinary or problem-solving approaches, development of critical thinking, or encouraging the students to come to their own conclusions.
In comparison with high schools geography is less present in the curricula of 4-year professional schools (45% of students). There are 140 hours in programmes »traffic« and »economy«, 70 hours in other cases. The students learn about »Slovenia in Europe« and »The modern world«, or about »Geography of European traffic connections«. The syllabus of the programme »economy« contains themes from the world, Europe, and Slovenia. Unfortunately geography is totally absent in some preogrammes. It was replaced by sociology or by psxchology.
In 3-year professional schools ( 28% of students) geography is incorporated into the subject »social science«, which can be taught by history teachers or sociology teachers.
LEARNING OBJECTIVES RECOMMENDED BY THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE
The Council of Europe conference on »Geographical Information and Documentation on European Countries«, held in September 1989 in Utrecht, with Contribution of Geography to Education of Future European citizens recommended to schools in Europe to include in the geography teaching syllabuses the themes that contribute to:
(Source: Council of Europe, Doc. CDCC (89), 1989)
The common geographical content that corresponds to the stated criteria, and should be incorporated into the geography teaching syllabuses all over Europe, is as follows:
(see: Permanent Conference of European Ministers of Education, 1001)
Natural environment (types of relief - primarily mountains, vegetation - primarily forests, conservation and problems of pollution)
Borders (regional and cultural identity, ethnicity, minorities, nationalism)
Migrations (territorial mobility of population)
Economic development (beyond-border regions, poverty)
Traffic (rivers and civilisation, water ways, railway)
European institutions (European identity, religion)
Europe and the world
All of the above-mentioned themes are included in the high school syllabus; they are taught more or less exhaustively. It could even be claimed that a Slovenian high school student has a better knowledge of Europe than of his native country. The reason for that is not in the need of members of small nations to know others better, in order to survive, but in the fact that Slovenia comes last, when the teachers have run out of time, having taught about Europe and other continents. So only the students who have chosen geography as a »matura« subject study their own country more thoroughly.
COURSE BOOKS AND TEACHING MATERIAL
To learn about Europe, Slovenian students have a voluminous manual and a workbook, maps and atlases, and a rich choice of other didactic material, like transparencies and photo-transparencies, which can make teaching and learning more obvious. As schools are well equipped with computers, the access to statistical data on the world web should not be a problem. What is a bigger problem, is the question of sufficient qualification of teachers for choosing more active teaching methods, and the insufficient number of teaching hours. Student creativity can only become evident in their written reports, which are chosen and prepared by the students themselves.
Primary school teachers must have, the same as secondary school teachers, university degree. Their actual qualification highly depends on the academic programme, which is, according to general opinion, not sufficiently oriented towards the practice. Graduates usually have good knowledge of geography, but they lack experience and specific teaching skills to develop students' capacity.
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS BETWEEN SLOVENIAN AND EUROPEAN SCHOOLS
In the last ten years, since Slovenian independence, a new form of learning, concerning both teachers and students, has developed. Teachers' associations organize excursions and study tours for geography teachers to numerous European countries. This is the best opportunity for learning about current geographical features and processes at regional and global levels, using the interdisciplinary approach, for developing critical attitudes, for acquiring knowledge about other nations and cultures. Study tours which include beforehand preparation from foreign sources and written reports ar also an important opportunity for language practice;
when Slovenia becomes member of the European Union foreign languages will be even more important. The programmes of excursions also include visits of schools and meetings with local teachers, who were often participants of the Council of Europe seminars. Such meetings often result in long-term co-operation of schools, teachers, students.
The co-operation between Slovenian schools and the schools in other European countries has also developed on the basis of the programme Socrates. Last year about 25 Slovenian schools took part in common projects. Unfortunately there is no exact record.