Live revision! Join us for our free exam revision livestreams Watch now

Topic updates

GIS in the Classroom Blog 9: How can we use GIS to investigate development?

Brendan Conway

22nd June 2023

Geographical perspectives on economic and social development are an integral part of the secondary curriculum. How can geospatial resources offer support for learning in this area? Fortunately, the potency of GIS in dealing with big data has progressed quickly and become more accessible in recent years.

In recent years, one of the most widely-used online resources is Gapminder, founded in 2005 by the late Hans Rosling with his son Ola Rosling and daughter-in-law Anna Rosling Rönnlund. They revolutionised the visualisation of big data about development issues by creating animated graphs using their Trendalyzer tool. Rosling’s 2007 TED talk ‘The best stats you've ever seen’[1] had a worldwide impact (almost 16 million views), becoming a crucial influence on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Gapminder apps have kept on improving and can now be used to create instant time-enabled GIS maps such as the one below comparing Child mortality (0-5 year olds dying per 1000 born). ‘Gapminder Tools Offline’ can be downloaded if useful.

There are close links between development and disease management. As explained in the first blog of this series, GIS started as a spatial epidemiology tool. During the recent Covid-19 pandemic, GIS was celebrated for its essential contribution at all geographical scales from local to global, such as the Covid-10 Dashboard.

Our World In Data is another excellent data visualisation project based at the University of Oxford, including time-enabled interactive GIS maps showing spatio-temporal change for a wide range of development metrics. A typical example is their impressive COVID-19 Data Explorer, including clickable pop-up details of trends in each country.

For several years, @EngagingData has produced a range of innovative visualisations, such as ‘Assembling the World Country-By-Country’. The interactive map controls show each country in order of a selection of measures including GDP per capita or life expectancy.

In building and sequencing schema about development, a good understanding of economic sectors (primary, secondary, tertiary and quaternary)[2] is a key building block. GIS provides effective options to manage cognitive load along the way. The tabbed story map Journey of a Product: A loaf of bread (created in ArcGIS Online) can be used to step an explanation about the way each different sector is involved in the production of an everyday item.

On this foundation, we can then use GIS to examine spatial patterns in sector share in different countries, based on the extended Clark-Fisher Model. The map is one of several created by Year 9 students to combine both substantive and procedural knowledge. There are layers for each sector, but with the same pop-up data in each to facilitate comparisons using pie charts. Using Survey123 as a data gathering tool, students worked in pairs, mainly sourcing from the UNDP and The World Bank. Countries were shared out and information was collected for economic sectors (tertiary and quaternary sectors had already been merged[3]) and other measures including GNI per capita, Education Index and Life Expectancy. It was a great team effort, but bear in mind that as they were GIS novices, there will be EBIs!

[1] In 2010 the BBC invited Hans Rosling to make an inspiring documentary called The Joy of Stats, which is still very useful. There’s an extract here ‘Hans Rosling's 200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes - The Joy of Stats (BBC Four)’

[2] For example Geography programmes of study: key stage 3’ National curriculum in England DfE 2013

[3] Finding open-source data for all countries’ economic sectors, especially for quaternary, is quite challenging!

Brendan Conway

Brendan has over thirty years’ experience as a teacher of Geography and head of department. He led his current department to become a Geographical Association Centre of Excellence. In addition to being an author of geographical texts and resources, he also works in Initial Teacher Training (ITT), Erasmus Plus projects and supports schools with GIS as an Esri Geomentor.

© 2002-2024 Tutor2u Limited. Company Reg no: 04489574. VAT reg no 816865400.