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Geographic information systems (GIS) diffusion in high schools.

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Geographical information systems (GIS), the phenomenon for this study, was introduced as a section in the Revised National Curriculum Statement (RNCS) for school Geography in 2006 in South Africa. It also appears in the latest Curriculum addition, namely the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS), for Geography. It is taught in the further education and training (FET) phase of high school (Grades 10, 11 and 12) as a critical part of map work, which is assessed in Paper 2 of the geography examinations for these grades. An acknowledgement of the high failure rate of matric learners (grade 12) in the high stakes examination in Geography is testimony to the challenges that teachers and learners face. However, few studies have explored GIS diffusion locally, through the lens of teachers: their beliefs and views, the way it is taught and why, given that it is a practical component of the curriculum dependent on school resources, such as access to electricity, computers, GIS software and teachers’ innovativeness. Hence, there was a need to understand how GIS is taught and to identify the challenges which teachers face when they teach this section of the curriculum. The aim of the study was thus to explore GIS diffusion through the teaching of GIS in high schools in the Frances Baard district of the Northern Cape province of South Africa, a context where there is a dearth of research on GIS teaching in Geography. Key objectives of this study included an exploration of the pedagogical approaches used by geography teachers when they teach GIS and the reasons why they choose these approaches. The study also sought to examine teachers ’attitudes towards the inclusion of GIS in Geography in the FET phase and their views about teaching it. The study fell within the pragmatist paradigm, and a sequential explanatory mixed methods and multiple-case study design research design was adopted. Questionnaires, interviews, and classroom observations were used to generate data. Purposive convenience sampling was utilised to select the most accessible participants. In total, 60 geography teachers participated in this research. The study used Rogers’ (2003) diffusion of innovation theory and the technology acceptance model (TAM) as frameworks. The data from the interviews and classroom observations were analysed thematically using framework analysis, whilst the data from the questionnaires were analysed quantitively using SPSS, and the application of the Fisher’s test and ANOVA. The study integrated the findings and drew inferences using both qualitative and quantitative data. Teachers were found to have positive attitudes about the inclusion of GIS in the curriculum and they displayed an appreciation of its importance in society. However, the study found that the use of GIS in the classroom is constrained by several technical and non-technical challenges. It was revealed that seasoned teachers (who have been in the teaching profession for a long time) do not easily accept curriculum changes and need in-service training to enhance their knowledge and confidence in new content, such as GIS when it’s introduced into the curriculum. Further, the research noted that the majority of teachers used teacher-centred pedagogical approaches when teaching GIS, utilising mainly the textbook. It was a significant finding that the teachers lacked GIS training, and that they had inadequate GIS content knowledge. Furthermore, teachers 'integration of GIS in their geography lessons, was impaired by infrastructure challenges in the school with electricity and internet connectivity. The study makes theoretical contributions to the diffusion of innovation, as well as technology acceptance models from a GIS lens, in addition to Geography teaching in South Africa. Many teachers resorted to thus ‘teaching about GIS’ rather than ‘teaching through GIS’. As a result, ‘perfunctory GIS teaching’ was evident in the mechanical, minimal effort, unenthusiastic manner of teaching. Many teachers were ‘curriculum cramming’ - they hurtled through the GIS section of the CAPS and failed to integrate it with other Geography topics in the curriculum due to the curriculum and assessment demands for GIS. Whilst there is value in teacher-centred pedagogical approaches to teaching some aspects of GIS, the current curriculum is constructivist and teachers’ weak GIS content knowledge base contributed to influencing the pedagogical approaches which they opted to use when teaching GIS. The study advances an ecosystems model to understand and respond to the GIS teaching challenges facing Geography teachers in the Frances Baard district of the Northern Cape. Thus, the study recommends that it is critical for teachers to receive GIS support such as GIS training on compliance to CAPS and to build sufficient content and pedagogical content knowledge to be confident in teaching this section. The research also recommends that, in order to bridge the gap in GIS knowledge, a seeding model of GIS can be pursued in the province. Alternatively, the GIS lessons can be skype/zoom taught if there is a lack of access to electricity so that schools can learn simultaneously. These models can help reduce the failure rate in the GIS section of the matric exit examination and it can assist to promote the subject of geography, especially for those learners who are intent on pursuing GIS linked careers. Other insights gained from the data suggest that the pedagogical approaches used, the knowledge of GIS by teachers, and their attitudes towards GIS can be improved if other stakeholders (apart from the Department of Education and their district offices), such as the Environmental Systems Research Institute South Africa, universities and local municipalities that have access to GIS expertise and resources help to set up collaborative project endeavours to provide GIS expertise, to workshop teachers and to tutor learners in the GIS seeding of schools.