Spatial concept development and the teaching of geography in primary schools.
Until recently educational geographers have concerned themselves largely with questions regarding those parts of the discipline which should be included in school and university curricula (Fitzgerald, 1969; Thomas, 1978). The advent of the quantitative and more recently the behavioural approaches to geography have focused attention on the nature of the discipline and educationalists faced with the change in emphasis from a regional to quantitative approach have incorporated new areas of study into the school curricula, without (in many cases) considering the needs of school children and their stages of conceptual development. The emphasis in geography teaching has in this manner moved away from a factual basis towards the teaching of concepts. Geographic concepts which are important for children to acquire have been defined by academic geographers (Hagget, 1975) but unfortunately little research has been undertaken into the teaching of these concepts. Only recently have geographers begun to show an interest in the way in which concepts are acquired by young pupils. In particular, the works of Blaut and Stea (1973, 1974), Catling (1978, 1978b, 1979), Balchin and Coleman (1973), Naish (1977), Cole and Beynon (1968, 1969), Rushdoony (1971) and Cracknell (1976) have focused attention on the need for geographic educators to understand the way in which pupils develop spatial concepts so that teaching strategies can be correctly planned. Deep seated prejudices regarding what children can understand at primary school are being subjected to careful analysis with sometimes surprising results (Blaut and Stea, 1974). Research into spatial concept formation and the teaching of geography is still in its infancy and more research is needed to enable geography at the primary school level to play a meaningful part in the total development of the child. In this regard the emphasis placed on the teaching of graphicacy needs special attention and mapwork skills need to be improved (Balchin and Cole, 1973). In this thesis an attempt is made to analyse and discuss the major theories of spatial concept development and to apply the ideas of the theorists to the practice of geography teaching in senior primary schools. The research into childrens' spatial concepts in two Natal primary schools, and into ways in which mapwork concepts can be utilised to aid spatial concept development, should help to improve the effectiveness of geography teaching at this level.