Saturday, September 24, 2011

Why don’t they get it?

Left image: Main sqaure, Brussells.
Right image: Along the Thames at night.

Related sites to the Spatialworlds project
Spatialworlds website
21st Century Geography Google Group
Australian Geography Teachers' Association website
'Towards a National Geography Curriculum' project website
Geography Teachers' Association of South Australia website
Email contact

Where am I??
Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

Why is the spatial message not getting out into the community?

“It is estimated that the geospatial job market right now is growing by 35 percent annually.”

Dr. Christopher Sutton, professor of geography at Western Illinois University: Geography Matters! The Importance of Geographic Literacy in Liberal Arts Education.

“With the explosion of access to spatial data and spatially enabled tools, such as cellular phones and vehicle navigation systems, these technologies are also quickly becoming an essential part of everyday lives and have a rapidly growing need for a workforce skilled in Geospatial Technology” says Mr. Sarvis.

Such statements are frequently stated by those involved in the spatial industry or teachers promoting the use of geospatial technology and applications in education. It is as "clear as the nose on our face" that the spatial industry is a growing industry and deserves to have a place in the education of the young as a vocational entitlement and as a citizenship capacity builder. The question that keeps on being asked by some of us is; "why don't others get the fact that there is a huge industry linked to this technology we can and should be using in schools??"

One of the basic problems is that we have many terms for the same thing. Maybe we need to settle on a definition for what we are talking about and clearly articulate and promote the agreed definition consistently across the school, tertiary and industry sectors. I recently came across this definition from the Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in the central Pennsylvania region. It certainly is clear and concise as a description of the technologies and applications we are on about.

"Geospatial Technology is a collective term referring to technologies that collect, store, query, analyze, visualize and present spatial information. The three primary technologies that comprise Geospatial Technology are Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and Remote Sensing. With these core technologies spatial data can be captured and used across a wide variety of disciplines including environmental, commercial, political, social, medical, military, and emergency response. In fact over 80% of all data has a spatial component that can benefit from, and be integrated within, Geospatial Technology."

These issues came home to me with a bang on Thursday when I attended the
Surveying and Spatial Science Institutes National Spatial Education and Careers Summit in Canberra. The meeting was a think tank and planning event attended by the key stakeholders in the spatial in Many of those attending have been working for years to get the community aware of the industry and the educational and career opportunities available. Unfortunately, I think all would agree, that despite the all pervasiveness of spatial information and technology available and readily used by the community, the community does not identify or indeed recognise that there is a spatial industry, let alone aware of the opportunities available. A previous Spatialworlds posting (after I had attended teh last SSSI Summit in April 2008) described the worth of the industry.

The discussion paper by the Cooperative Research Centre - Spatial Information (CRCSI) presented at this year’s summit may be useful for the spatial promoter to spruke when arguing for curriculum time or resources for geospatial technology and applications. Here are just several relevant extracts:

“The workforces of Australia and New Zealand are suffering from a critical shortage of spatial professionals. Both Australia and New Zealand tertiary education sectors that are not producing sufficient graduates to meet demand and are struggling to maintain adequate levels of funding for long term viability. This is compounding Australia and New Zealand’s long term skills shortage.

Recent estimates by the Spatial Industries Business Association (SIBA) Australia put the current labour shortage of spatial professionals in the Australian workforce at up to 3,000 to 4,000 people. The Allen Consulting Group (2010) estimated in a report to the Department of Sustainability and Environment that the number of full-time equivalents of spatial professionals in the Australian workforce was about 51,000 people and about 13,400 for New Zealand. The shortage of spatial professionals is compounded by two factors; an aging workforce and a lack of new graduates.

There is good evidence that the spatial industry, both domestically and internationally, is growing at a sustained rate of 10 to 15% per annum. ACIL Tasman (2008) estimated that the Australian spatial industry currently contributes about $10 billion to Australian GDP and in a similar study for New Zealand also in 2008 estimated the industry was contributing about $1.2 billion to the economy. There is substantial evidence that the spatial industry in Australia and New Zealand will continue to grow at its current rate for at least the next five driven by innovation in the technologies. This will be fuelled by new spatial technologies that are known to be on their way to market and by known lack of penetration of current technologies in many market areas in Australia and New Zealand. The skilled capacity shortage is therefore likely to worsen.
Despite this shortage the tertiary sector is not producing enough spatial science graduates to satisfy the needs of industry. Other than continuing to employ people from overseas, the only solution is for the academic institutions to increase their graduate output. Ironically many universities in Australia and New Zealand offering a professional education in the spatial sciences have been experiencing difficulty for many years in attracting adequate numbers of students into their programs from both secondary school leavers and mature age workers. This is true despite the strong external industry demand for graduates and the efforts of various groups and organisations to encourage secondary school students into spatial science programs at the tertiary level.
There is an expanding demand for people with spatial skills in a growing number of disciplines that are not explicitly spatial in their own right. This demand has sprung from the ‘mainstreaming’ of spatial information and the increasing dependence of industry and the community more broadly on spatial information for a wide range of business, social and personal activities. The increasing demand for spatial information throughout the community and across many industry sectors gives rise to an opportunity to “mainstream” spatial information education. Spatial skills, at varying levels, need to be taught to students in a wide variety of disciplines at university level.”

The forum heard that the reasons students are not choosing a career in spatial science are:
1. Ignorance of the diversity of the spatial profession and what it offers
2. Lack of attraction (e.g. popular appeal, job satisfaction, career esteem, ill defined industry
3. Perceived limited career prospects- through unwareness of the industry by careers and subject counsellors in schools
4. Lack of industry identity (what is it - surveying, geomatics, spatial science, geospatial science, spatial information science?)
5. Lower real wages than some of the better known alternatives such as engineering, planning and architecture

With an understanding of the human resources situation facing the spatial industry, the threats to spatial science departments in universities due to low enrolments, the low profile of spatial technology and geography in schools and the unfathomable lack of awareness of the industry and its opportunities in the community; the summit set about finding some answers.

I can't report that the answers were “nailed down” but they were certainly identified. Following the summit a high level group is to be formed to develop a strategic plan to address the situation. Naturally whatever plans are made the major task of this group will be to access funds to have people on the ground to actually carry through the strategies. The day was a very positive start and I look forward to hear about what is to happen next. I feel positive after the day. The summit was particularly interested in the Australian Curriculum: Geography and its engagement with the spatial industry and technology. We hope that the Australian Curriculum: Geography will give a “leg-up” in schools to the awareness of spatial technology and the associated industry. Throughout the curriculum in terms of skills and understandings, the concept of space and spatial technology are evident. As I said in the paper presented to the summit:

The curriculum is based around seven concepts, one of which is space. Two important components of the curriculum advocated by AGTA is the inclusion of the use of spatial technology and spatial analysis as key skills and the expectation that fieldwork is to be an integral part of a geographical education.

As quoted from the Australia Curriculum: Geography rationale:

“Fieldwork, the mapping and interpretation of spatial distributions, and the use of spatial technologies are fundamental geographical skills.

Of particular interest is the Year 10 unit on Challenges which provides the opportunity to use spatial technology and examine the relevance of geography to the spatial industry."

The unit provides the opportunity for students to use their geographical thinking, skills and technological tools to examine some environmental challenges that will affect their future lives, and to find out how geography contributes to the understanding and management of these challenges.”
“Students are to recognise the value of spatial technology as a tool in geographical inquiry and in a wide range of practical applications.”

In conclusion, the summit agreed that we need to address “... what can be done to lift awareness and appeal amongst school age children, their parents and teachers? This question needs more thought – not more of the same.”
Here’s hoping!!

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