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The importance of a geography education for the global citizens of tomorrow

Educational programmes which encourage dialogue between students of diverse cultures, beliefs and religions make important and meaningful contributions to sustainable and tolerant societies[1]. Private schools, with their diverse international populations and curricula, are well-positioned to develop the competences required for the development of intercultural understanding - a concept viewed as an essential prerequisite for effective participation in a world constantly evolving in response to globalisation[2][3]. In this article I offer three arguments for the importance of geography to help further develop these skills in young people, better-preparing them for life and work in an increasingly interdependent and culturally diverse global economy.

Firstly, geography develops intercultural understanding through its potential to introduce learners to other worlds and the experience of otherness[4]. The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) geography course aims to “develop international understanding and foster a concern for global issues” by encouraging the examination of current world affairs[5]. A consideration of different perspectives, economic circumstances and social and cultural diversity are central to the IB Geography syllabus. This capacity to analyse global events and social phenomena from multiple perspectives is viewed as an indispensable component of intercultural competence[6] and central to the development of communicative proficiency[7]. The aims of a geography education are, therefore, closely aligned with those of intercultural understanding and choosing to study geography at IB Diploma Level offers students greater opportunities to develop skills in intercultural competence.


Secondly, as globalisation is frequently used as a central argument for the development of intercultural understanding, the study of globalisation provides further opportunities for its development. The Higher Level (HL) IBDP geography course views globalisation as a “two-way and complex process whereby cultural traits and commodities may be adopted, adapted or resisted by societies” as opposed to the conventional “linear process involving the domination and the imposition of Western culture on the world”[8]. The Human Development and Diversity unit focuses on ‘changing identities and cultures’, including topics on cultural imperialism, global diaspora populations and the rise of nationalism. Within my classroom, HL IBDP students study these concepts in the context of the adoption and adaption of cultural traits as a result of the Jamaican diaspora population in the UK. When examining the rise of nationalism as a result of global interactions in this context, students are confronted with multiple perspectives relating to topics of global concern, such as immigration. Through the appropriate use of teacher questioning, alongside learning activities that encourage a critical approach, the HL IBDP geography programme offers a multitude of opportunities to question values and attitudes and should, therefore, be viewed as an important pathway in developing intercultural understanding in students.


Thirdly, active learning is a key pedagogical approach in the development of intercultural competence[9] and one that can be more commonly found in the social science classroom. Geography fieldwork also presents multiple opportunities for active learning, immersing young people in “an entirely different world”[10]. However, it must be noted that exposure to different cultures will not automatically lead to intercultural understanding, and may in fact risk promoting resistance and rejection if there is insufficient pedagogical preparation[11]. Learning through fieldwork in different cultural contexts, therefore, must be structured and guided in the same way as classroom learning. When managed correctly, learning in multicultural groups has been demonstrated to trigger not only intercultural learning processes[12] but also improve group performance[13] as well as encouraging creativity and open-mindedness[14]. A geography education within the context of diverse private, international schools, therefore, not only develops students’ intercultural understanding but also plays a crucial role in the development of key skills required for the 21st Century.


In conclusion, intercultural understanding is imperative for the development of tolerant societies in a world rapidly changing as a result of globalisation. Private, international schools which offer the IBDP programme are well-positioned to develop intercultural competences as part of their wider school missions. IBDP geography is an additional, valuable pathway to improved intercultural understanding through its aims, pedagogical approaches and opportunities for collaborative, active learning and fieldwork. A geography education has never been more important to our future - it not only helps to better-equip students to face the challenges of an increasingly intercultural world, but also contributes to improving tolerance within the diverse societies of our future.


Matthew Roberts
Teacher of Geography


[1] UNESCO. (2006). UNESCO Guidelines on Intercultural Education. Retrieved from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0014/001478/147878e.pdf

[2] Cummins, J. (2015). Intercultural education and academic achievement: a framework for school-based policies in multilingual schools. Intercultural Education, 26(6), 455–468. https://doi.org/10.1080/14675986.2015.1103539

[3] Heyward, M. (2002). From International to Intercultural: Redefining the International School for a Globalized World. Journal of Research in International Education, 1(1), 9–32. https://doi.org/10.1177/147524090211002

[4] Byram, M. (1997). Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence. Multilingual Matters. Retrieved from https://books.google.ch/books?id=0vfq8JJWhTsC

[5] IBO. (2017). IB DP Geography Guide, Retrieved February 19, 2018, from https://ibpublishing.ibo.org/d_3_geogr_gui_1702_1/apps/dpapp/guide.html?doc=d_3_geogr_gui_1702_1_e&part=1&chapter=2

[6] Dimitrov, N., & Haque, A. (2016). Intercultural teaching competence: a multi-disciplinary model for instructor reflection. Intercultural Education, 27(5), 437–456. https://doi.org/10.1080/14675986.2016.1240502

[7] Deardorff, D. K. (2009). The SAGE Handbook of Intercultural Competence. SAGE Publications. Retrieved from https://books.google.ch/books?id=nMpuWfOYsREC

[8] IBO. (2017). IB DP Geography Guide, Retrieved February 19, 2018, from https://ibpublishing.ibo.org/d_3_geogr_gui_1702_1/apps/dpapp/guide.html?doc=d_3_geogr_gui_1702_1_e&part=1&chapter=2

[9] Pandit, K., & Alderman, D. (2004). Border crossings in the classroom: The international student interview as a strategy for promoting intercultural understanding. Journal of Geography, 103(3), 127-136.

[10] Byram, M., & Zarate, G. (1995). Young People Facing Difference: Some Proposals for Teachers. Council of Europe Publishing. Retrieved from https://books.google.ch/books?id=BPnZQl6C69UC

[11] Byram, M., Nichols, A., & Stevens, D. (2001). Developing Intercultural Competence in Practice. Channel View Publications. Retrieved from https://books.google.ch/books?id=Twec2iPnrQgC

[12] Brendel, N., Aksit, F., Aksit, S., & Schrüfer, G. (2016). Multicultural group work on field excursions to promote student teachers’ intercultural competence. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 40(2), 284–301.

[13] Oetzel, J. G. (1998). Culturally homogeneous and heterogeneous groups: explaining communication processes through individualism-collectivism and self-construal. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 22(2), 135–161. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0147-1767(98)00002-9

[14] Williams, C. T., & Johnson, L. R. (2011). Why can’t we be friends?: Multicultural attitudes and friendships with international students. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 35(1), 41–48. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.IJINTREL.2010.11.001