Academic receives medal in acknowledgement of his work in Geography

The gold medal that he received from the Society of South African Geographers was achieved on the shoulders of others – people like his parents and family, colleagues and people who, along with him, dedicate their lives to trying to create a better future for everyone through education.

So says Prof Peter Beets of the Department of Curriculum Studies in the Faculty of Education about the award that he recently received in acknowledgement of his many-faceted and meritorious contribution to the field of Geography in general and, more specifically, Geography teaching in Southern Africa. The award includes honorary membership of the Society. “The announcement of the Society’s intentions came completely out of the blue. But I am thankful that efforts to promote the discipline on different levels are acknowledged in this way and that I could be part of it.”

Prof Peter Beets who received an award from the South African Association of Geographers speaking passionately about his work as educator. (Photo: Justin Alberts)

With the educational transformation after 1994 and the associated establishment of the South African Qualifications Authority he served in the National Standards Body for Human and Social Studies (NSB 07) with the task, among others, of promoting the interests of Geography on different levels in education. In his post at the time of Senior Curriculum Planner in the Western Cape Department of Education he led the process of writing the curriculum for Geography (Grades 10 to 12). He fulfilled the same task during the latest curriculum renewal. For him, this involvement offers an opportunity to use the expertise that he has acquired as an academic, in conjunction with other role players, to further the quality of Geography teaching in South Africa. He furthermore also tries to account for current schools of thought in academic Geography in the school curriculum and in that way to narrow the gap between school and university Geography.

Beets points out that a critical understanding of the spaces within which we live, along with an understanding of the interactions and stresses between the various components in these spaces, is essential to support learners/students to achieve the active citizenship that is aimed at creating a sustainable world. “As a child who grew up on the wrong side of the apartheid dispensation in the Boland town of Wolseley it was difficult to understand the inequalities that manifested themselves at different levels. The ability to be able to analyse your living space and to ask key geographical-conceptual questions about it can enable you to systematically gain a deeper understanding of it. And even more so, with this thorough understanding of the physical and human processes and phenomena, and their interactions, it then becomes easier to apply acquired knowledge and skills to work towards a more equal dispensation – from knowledge to action.”

In addition to his years as a Geography teacher on the Cape Flats, he also was a lecturer and later a senior lecturer at three teacher training institutions. He is a recipient of the Rector’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and was already nominated twice by the best first-year student as the lecturer who had the greatest impact on his/her progress. As both only and co-author he has published articles in internationally and nationally accredited journals. He also is the author of chapters in academic textbooks and Geography school textbooks, and is currently working on an atlas.

Beets says his objective is to help establish the school subject Geography as a science of integration. “Previously, Geography was presented in a very compartmentalised manner, as physical geography on the one hand and human geography on the other. The world in which we live, on which Geography as a subject offers a specific analytical lens, is much more complex, however – jut think about the issues with which humanity struggles today. Integral to most of these issues is a complex interaction between physical and human processes. The solution or management of these issues (such as global warming, for instance) requires an understanding that extends across these ‘compartments’. It therefore entails complex answers to complex problems.”

Beets initially studied at the University of the Western Cape with a teaching bursary. He then obtained a Master’s degree in Geography from Unisa and a diploma in teaching development from Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK. He later completed his PhD in Curriculum Studies through Stellenbosch University.