Creative Education
2013. Vol.4, No.12, 757-761
Published Online December 2013 in SciRes (
Open Access 757
Comparative Analysis of Cartographic Literacy in the Selected
Curricula at the Primary Level
Vlasta Hus, Tina Hojnik
Department of Primary Education, University of Maribor, Maribor, Slovenia
Received October 22nd, 2013; November 22nd, 2013; accepted November 29th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Vlasta Hus, Tina Hojnik. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Com-
mons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, pro-
vided the original work is properly cited. In accordance of the Creative Commons Attribution License all Copy-
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Basic knowledge of maps, because of its widespread use, has become a part of the individual’s modern
literacy. This is why we were interested in how this kind of literacy which is represented in schools, when
it occurs and how it is upgraded. Based on the study of literature we have formed criteria of cartographic
literacy and based on the comparative method we have compared and curricula for the lower stage of
primary education of two countries (England and Slovenia). We found that cartographic literacy is given
most attention, as well as in content of in didactic recommendations, in the Slovene curriculum for Social
Studies (second triad). But according to the pupils’ cognitive abilities, it is being introduced too late. In
the English curriculum for Geography initial cartography is far more dependent on the teachers and their
cartography knowledge (or lack of it) because of the general definition of objectives and lack of recom-
mendations. A combination of such an open curriculum and teacher’s cartography knowledge (or lack of
it) can push cartographic literacy a step back from other content. That is why educating teachers and pay-
ing attention to the matter either in the curriculum or in textbook sets are of utmost importance.
Keywords: Curricula; Primary Level of Education; Cartographic Literacy
Maps are a highly concentrated source of information and an
important information-communication means. They are a basic
tool for learning and understanding of Earth’s surface and ob-
jects on it and means of acquiring a variety of knowledge and
information. We use them at almost every step, e.g. knowledge
of World’s geography, travelling to remote places, reading
roadmaps, familiarization with weather imagery, etc. For ob-
taining reading techniques and communication with the maps
the term cartographic literacy was therefore introduced. Its
intention was to train an individual for a flawless use of maps,
which means that the user must comprehend its content, inter-
pret it and also visualize displayed area.
Cartographic literacy is a complex mental activity and as
such a long-term process. Its success depends on several factors
(e.g. on child’s age, his mental development, needs, experi-
ences; quality of used maps, etc.). Basic techniques and skills to
read maps are differently defined in literature. Mostly they
classify them as comprehension of perspective, orientation and
direction, comprehension of map scale, cartographic language
and land relief (Umek, 2001a). In acquiring these basic ele-
ments pupil passes through three levels of difficulty, namely
material level (collecting concrete experiences about space),
cartographic level (conversion of these experiences into parts of
the map) and only then carrying out thought processes on an
abstract level (Verhetsel, 1994).
Cartographic literacy is a part of functional literacy therefore
at least the same amount of attention should be given to map
comprehension as it is given to reading literacy. This led us to
explore teaching cartographic literacy in schools in two coun-
tries, namely Slovenia and England. We focused on the primary
level of education. Decision was based on the reviewed litera-
ture where we determined that children are already capable to
comprehend many properly adjusted map components in the
pre-school period. In the curricula we reviewed cartographic
objectives and basic cognitions of this field (when and how
they are included in the curricula of both countries). We were
also interested in the support that curricula offer teachers in
didactic recommendations, teaching methods, forms and tech-
niques. We were also interested in what kind of autonomy cur-
ricula grant the teachers and what kind of influence it has on
cartographic literacy.
Descriptive analysis was used based on the study of profes-
sional literature. Reviewed literature refers to so far existing
general didactic findings and to narrow didactic findings of
geography and psychology on cartographic literacy. We used
the comparative method of scientific educational research. This
was used to compare cartographic literacy on the primary level
from Slovene curricula for the Environmental Studies (Kolar,
Kostanjšek, Krnel, Pertič, Umek, & Velkavrh, 2011) and Social
Studies subject (Budnar, Hus, Kerin, Kos, Mirt, Raztresen, &
Umek, 2011) as well as from the English curriculum for Geog-
Open Access
raphy (The National Curriculum for England. Geography,
1999). This was done with the intention of discovering similari-
ties and differences. For comparative analysis we prepared the
criteria in advance and while forming them we derived from
basic criteria of the curricula and from basic components of
cartographic literacy as defined by Umek (2001a). The latter
was described in detail during the article:
1) An overview of the objectives and basic skills for the car-
tography classes in the selected curricula.
2) The integration of the basic components of cartographic
literacy in the selected curricula.
3) The contents of the objectives that foresee use, reading,
drawing and interpretation of maps.
4) Teachers’ autonomy, teaching forms, methods and tech-
niques for teaching initial cartography in the selected countries.
5) Didactic recommendations and additional help for the
teachers of cartographic literacy.
In the sample of comparison we included the first and the
second educational period in England which is comparable
across time with the class level or the first and partly second
triad of Slovene nine-year primary school. We compared crite-
ria according to pupils’ age level—it means that we compared
the first educational period (Key stage 1) in England (children
aged five to seven years) with the first class of Slovene nine-
year school (children aged six to seven years). Second educa-
tional period (Key stage 2) in England (children aged seven to
eleven years) was compared with second, third, fourth and fifth
grade of the Slovene nine-year school (children aged seven to
eleven years). We should explain that pupils in England are
admitted to school at the age of five and in Slovenia at the age
of six. This type of schooling in England is three years longer
and is divided into four educational periods and in Slovenia
into three trienniums.
An Overview of the Objectives and Basic Skills
for the Cartography Classes in the Selected
In the reviewed curricula we searched for cartographic ob-
jectives and basic cognitions of cartography and we compared
their number, content and vertical upgrade. The objectives in
the English curricula are written in the form of reference points,
namely for each educational period. The objectives in the Slo-
vene curricula are precisely defined and written for each grade
separately but with the curricula reform they have stayed only
as a recommendation where teacher himself decides whether it
will be implemented as it is recommended or at a slower or
faster pace.
Basic cognitions are knowledge, skills and comprehensions
that pupils should acquire at the end of certain educational pe-
riod. Similar to objectives basic cognitions from cartographic
literacy are more precisely defined in the Slovene curricula
whereas English basic cognitions are more general and do not
specifically apply to cartographic literacy. Discussed basic
cognitions are consistently upgraded in curricula of both coun-
There are few cartographic objectives and basic cognitions in
the reviewed curricula especially in the first age period (five to
seven years). Here we found three objectives and three basic
cognitions regarding cartography in the Slovene curriculum,
and in English curriculum there were eight objectives and six
basic cognitions that can be associated with cartography. In the
second age period (seven to eleven years) we found twenty-one
objectives and fifteen basic cognitions of cartography and in
English there were ten objectives and five basic cognitions that
can be associated with cartography.
The difference in content among the discussed objectives for
the first educational period in the curricula of both countries is
that pupils in England get acquainted with a greater cognitive
space earlier than their peers in Slovenia and English pupils (up
to seven years of age) also learn about not only natural (as it is
foreseen in the Slovene curriculum) but also about social char-
acteristics of local landscape. Both are compared to the so
called contrastive landscape. The advantage of the latter is a
better understanding of discussed characteristics and awareness
about places outside of local landscape. In Slovene curricula a
similar objective is stated among basic cognitions that pupils
should acquire a bit later (up to nine years of age).
The content of the objectives that can be associated with car-
tographic literacy in the second age period (seven to eleven
years) is similar in the curricula of both countries, except that in
the Slovene curricula they are more concretely defined. In both
countries broadening of cognitive space from local landscape to
landscapes around the world is expected, as well as describing
and identifying natural and social characteristics of discussed
landscapes; using various strategies, primary and secondary
sources to learn about landscapes where they base their explo-
ration on their knowledge.
The Integration of the Basic Components of
Cartographic Literacy in the Selected Curricula
As mentioned before we have taken the basic components of
cartographic literacy after Umek (2001a), namely bird perspec-
tive, orientation, cartographic symbols, land relief and map
scale. We were interested for which age level of the pupils and
in which way these basic components are foreseen and included
in the curricula.
Slovene curriculum (for pupils up to seven years of age) does
not explicitly foresee basic components (only drawing of land-
scape characteristics is mentioned), and English curriculum
mentions one activity associated with orientation (use of geo-
graphic vocabulary—north and south). For pupils (aged seven
to eleven) Slovene curricula foresee twelve objectives associ-
ated with the use of basic components of a map (from total of
twenty-two cartographic objectives) and English curriculum
mentions one of a total of ten cartographic objectives. Recom-
mendations related to the methods of implementing the basic
map elements were not detected in the reviewed curricula.
Their implementation is therefore dependent on the teacher, his
knowledge of basic components, and use of additional literature
as well as recommendations and activities that might be stated
in the textbook sets.
Bird perspective is one of the basic elements of cartographic
literacy. Children can understand this intuitively in the pre-
school period if it shows objects, phenomena and spaces famil-
iar to them (Umek, 2001a). In the reviewed curricula there was
no objective that explicitly mentions bird perspective, only the
use of aircraft photograph is mentioned. In the English curricu-
lum this is foreseen for children up to seven years of age, and in
Slovene not before nine years (stated as a basic notion). It
would be reasonable to consider emphasizing aircraft photo-
graphs and introducing them into classes earlier because chil-
dren as young as five to six years can successfully identify
Open Access 759
space or place with the help of aircraft photograph (they can
successfully estimate direction as well, the only problem is
estimating distances) (Blades, Plester, & Spencer, 2003). In one
of her research Umek (2001a) even found that children were
more successful in using aircraft photographs than in using
maps. And it is important that because of the use of photo-
graphs their efficiency in using maps has improved as well.
Orientation is also one of the basic elements of cartographic
literacy. Orientation is closely related to cartography that is
why we would expect to find more of these objectives in the
reviewed curricula.
As with bird perspective children in pre-school period are
good at estimating directions and can use simple maps even if
they are not oriented and they benefit from orientation points
(Acredolo & Bluestein, 1979; Blades & Spencer, 1990). Objec-
tives regarding orientation are explicitly mentioned only in the
Slovene curricula, but only after the age of seven. Yet this is
appropriately and constantly upgraded from grade to grade
(from learning about opportunities of orientation in the envi-
ronment (second grade), to knowing (third grade) and estab-
lishing (fourth grade) cardinal directions with sun, shadow and
compass, from orienteering one selves with various drawings,
charts and maps (fourth grade) to orienteering home landscape,
Slovenia, Europe and world on the map and orienteering with a
map and compass (fifth grade)). English Geography curriculum
mentions orientation only through recommended activity—
through the objective of geographic vocabulary use, pupils
should get to know compass directions (North/South). As men-
tioned, objectives in the English curriculum are written in the
form of reference points that is why implementation and up-
grade of orientation objectives depends on individual schools or
Next basic elements of cartographic literacy are cartographic
signs. Although in both countries objectives associated with
cartographic signs are not explicitly mentioned for pupils from
seven years onwards, it should be emphasised that children
remember the symbols even earlier on, if they are of high qual-
ity, concrete (images) and resemble the real world (Kulhavy &
Verdi, 2002). In classes it is reasonable to use maps of larger
scale because here cartographic signs are more noticeable, less
abstract and fewer in number what makes a map easier to read
(Umek, 2001b). One of the cartographic signs is the coordinate
grid. Reviewed curricula mention the use of the grid at about
same age level (from seven to eleven years). Coordinate grid
could be implemented (as it was the case in Slovenia for
Mathematics) into lower grades because pre-school children
can already comprehend an adjusted coordinate grid. This
means that grids should be marked in colour and pictorial signs
and in upper grades with numbers and letters (Blades &
Spencer, 2003). In the Slovene curriculum for Mathematics
(Lipovec, Kmetič, Perat, Prinčič Rohler, Repovž, Senekovič et
al., 2011) the grid is informatively introduced in the first grade,
concretely in third grade, and in “cartography classes” not until
the fourth grade. In England (in Geography and Maths) coordi-
nate grid is foreseen for the children from seven to eleven years
(The National Curriculum for England. Mathematics, 1999).
Whether familiarization of this map component for both sub-
jects is coordinated, of course, depends on the teacher.
Basic cartographic element that is most difficult to execute
and comprehend is the land relief. The majority of pupils can
understand it after the age of fourteen or fifteen. Objectives
associated with land relief (at primary level both in England
and in Slovenia) are mainly tied to notions related with land-
scape characteristics and ways of introducing these characteris-
tics. With an appropriately adjusted land relief these basic car-
tographic elements can also be introduced to lower grades (use
of pictorial signs for land relief) and in higher grades it can be
upgraded with a colour scale and contour lines (e.g. drawing of
contour lines while using a potato) (Umek, 2001b).
Map scale is also one of the map elements that are harder to
understand. Evaluating distances can cause difficulties for chil-
dren as well as for adults (Blades, Plaster, & Spencer, 2003). It
is best to use this concept with an understanding of notions
decreased/increased and then with an understanding and meas-
uring with a graphic scale. Graphic scale is the only explicitly
mentioned objective associated to map scale in Slovene cur-
riculum for Social studies (for fourth grade) that we came
across while reviewing curricula. However there are numerous
disparities regarding age level, when children should under-
stand distances, ratios and scales. Child’s understanding of
scale should be dependent on the mathematical term ratio and
on notion of distances that is why coordination with Mathe-
matics is more than welcome here (Umek, 2001b).
The Contents of the Objectives That Foresee Use,
Reading, Drawing and Interpretation of Maps
In order to develop child’s familiarity with maps entirely, a
child must have an opportunity to use maps, draw, read and
finally interpret them in various contexts. Each program of
teaching and learning must introduce these basic characteristics
individually and at the same time find ways for their integration
(Weeden, 2002).
In the English curriculum for Geography for the first educa-
tional period we have found five objectives associated with the
use, drawing, reading and interpreting of maps of total of eight
cartographic objectives. Meanwhile in the Slovene curriculum
(for the same age period) they are only listed among basic cog-
Half of discussed objectives in the Slovene curricula (eleven
of twenty-two cartographic objectives) are foreseen for the age
period of seven to eleven years. It is similar in the second edu-
cational period of the English curriculum where there are more
than half of discussed objectives (seven of ten cartographic
Objectives associated with the use of maps or objectives that
“foresee a direct connection of map features and landscape
features” (Weeden, 2002: p. 119), are already foreseen in both
curricula for pupils up to seven years of age (in Slovenia latter
is not stated among objectives but in basic cognitions). Simi-
larly (up to seven years) drawing of maps is foreseen or objec-
tives that “foresee coding of information into cartographic
form” (Weeden, 2002: p. 119), but curricula do not pay them
enough attention. Objectives associated with reading maps or
objectives that “foresee decoding of map elements” (Weeden,
2002: p. 119) are being introduced earlier in England, namely
before the age of seven, and in Slovenia only for pupils from
nine year onwards.
For achieving cartographic literacy development of both re-
ceiving and giving information is essential. In her research
Umek (2003) even found that in order to develop and compre-
hend cartographic literacy it is more efficient to make maps
rather than just read them. Why? While drawing the child oc-
cupies more cognitive channels—graphomotor and visual skills
Open Access
(a child draws what he observes), a child is connected to the
real world while drawing, gets to know a map in function, bet-
ter understands basic elements of a map, directly experiences
problems (which sign to use for fruits, how to draw a bench,
etc.) and is more perceptive for various solutions.
While drawing maps pupils use active knowledge and pas-
sive in reading them. Therefore it is reasonable to consider
drawing maps. Children are certainly motivated if classes are
more diverse and intertwined with various methods that cover
different cognitive types and ways of learning (Umek, 2001a).
In the reviewed curricula we did not come across objectives
that would explicitly indicate map interpretation or objectives
that “foresee the ability to connect adopted geographic knowl-
edge with the observed features and map patterns” (Weeden,
2002: p. 119). This is of course understandable because most of
thirteen year olds are at the level of basic reading techniques,
and only at the age of fifteen they can proceed to the abstract
level of working with maps. However younger pupils can also
interpret appropriately adjusted maps to a certain extent (Umek,
Teachers’ Autonomy, Teaching Forms,
Methods and Techniques for Teaching Initial
Cartography in the Selected Countries
School is becoming an increasingly autonomous and open
learning environment where teachers have greater responsibility
for content, organization and control of classes and as well as
their professional development (Eurydice, 2008).
In England central school curriculum and standards authority
determine minimal obligatory curriculum, plan learning con-
tents, define attainment targets and determine forms and meth-
ods of knowledge assessment. Schools and teachers, as a rule,
cannot change these decisions but individual schools are re-
sponsible for supplementation of contents (Eurydice, 2008).
English curricula are an example of open curricula that allow
schools and teachers a high level of autonomy and are ideal for
creative teachers that search for innovative ways to reach ob-
jectives and find appropriate modern ways of teaching for
themselves and pupils (Zupančič, 2008).
In Slovenia the program and curricula for primary school
subjects is adopted by the Council of Experts of the Republic of
Slovenia for General education. In the school year of 2011/
2012 reformed curricula came into force in Slovenia and in
many segments became more open. Curricula include general
and operational objectives and contents, knowledge standards
and didactic recommendations (from the field of achieving
course objectives, individualisation and differentiation, cross-
curricular connections and knowledge verification and evalua-
tion). Detailed subject content is described in textbook sets
which teachers choose from the list of preapproved textbooks
(Eurydice, 2008).
Despite the reform, Slovene curricula, in comparison to the
English ones, have a more detailed structure; they are more
detailed in determining content, objectives and basic cognitions
and so they guide the teacher through classes and help them
with establishing the essence of the profession.
However despite the noted differences among the curricula
teachers in England and Slovenia have a high level of auton-
omy in choosing teaching methods, forms and techniques.
These are written rather in general, as some kind of recom-
mendation, and similarly state:
The use of various active and modern teaching methods and
forms of work which gives pupils greater motivation and
concentration during classes.
Skilful planning of methods and work forms, adjusted to
developmental characteristics of the pupils in a way that all
can entirely and efficiently participate in classes (children
with special needs).
Active learning and researching of immediate surroundings
with the teaching method of fieldwork.
Promotion of the information-communication technology
(ICT) use.
Didactic Recommendations and Additional Help
for the Teachers of Cartographic Literacy
Despite of Slovene curricula reform, cartographic literacy in
the first triad is given too little attention as well as on the con-
tent level as on didactic recommendations level. On the con-
trary the recommendations in the Social studies curriculum
(second triad) prove that the authors have paid much more at-
tention to cartographic literacy. They have covered all the crite-
ria that we have analysed in this article (i.e. instructions for
reading and drawing maps, basic components of cartographic
literacy, broadening of spatial orientation, basic teaching me-
thod—fieldwork, use of pictorial material, comparison of the
latter with maps, simplification of over exacting maps, etc.).
With appropriate adjustment all of the above could be imple-
mented in lower grades as well.
In the English Geography curricula there were no didactic
recommendations directly associated with cartographic literacy.
Understanding of maps is mentioned in general, as well as
use of ICT, meaning of real problem use and with that the de-
velopment of pupil’s research skills for solving these problems
as well as inside as outside of classroom.
We can conclude that in Slovenia Social studies curriculum
(in comprehending cartographic literacy) is of great help to the
teachers and that in Slovene curricula there is a greater empha-
sis to the cartographic literacy despite of late implementation to
While reviewing literature we came across some suggestions
for teaching cartography:
Activities associated with maps, “real” tasks and authentic
instructions are a promising way of teaching exacting skills.
Such knowledge has a personal note, places itself in the
long-term memory and is generally not forgotten (Kulhavy
& Verdi, 2002).
Maps in textbook sets represent either primary message of
substantiation of information, can entirely replace text, but
often they are only a visual decoration (Umek, 2001a). If a
map is designed with an intention and is properly used in
classroom, then it can serve as a tool that facilitates learning
and enables acquirement of meaningful and relevant infor-
mation during the learning process (Kulhavy & Verdi,
Children’s literature sparks the imagination of children and
inspires meaningful teaching. With listening or reading sto-
ries children can explore geography through literature. Use
of children’s literature as a source of teaching basic geo-
graphic notions enables children an understanding of geog-
raphy that is composed of real people, places and occur-
Open Access 761
rences (Lin, Vasilijev, & Zeitler Hannibal, 2002).
Teacher’s knowledge of ICT is important because propor-
tionally with his ability to use this technology the use of
ICT activities and their inclusion into classes increases
(Umek, 2001a).
We can conclude that teachers should use appropriately ad-
justed maps for classes. It would be of great help if they were
already appropriately adjusted in the textbook sets. It frequently
occurs that maps in textbooks, workbooks and atlases are too
exacting and as such perhaps tedious to pupils. Latter can be
eliminated with the appropriate adjustment of basic carto-
graphic elements, with combinations of maps and various pic-
ture materials, with intertwining of drawing and reading maps,
with consistent use of charts (precise titles, presence and com-
bination of various scales, map legend, date and source of data),
with various presentations of number of layers of data, etc.
English curriculum is an example of an open curriculum that
provides guidelines, global objectives, and core content and
broadly sets basic cognitions at the end of individual educa-
tional period. As such it certainly does not pay much attention
to objectives or to didactic recommendations for the carto-
graphic literacy. In England the introduction and upgrade of
cartography and appropriate cross-curricular connection greatly
depends on individual schools or teachers. Slovene curriculum
has a more detailed structure as the English one and as such
pays much more attention to the cartographic literacy, but it
introduces it (too) late. With appropriate adjustment certain
objectives could be introduced in earlier classes and the intro-
duction of certain content could be more adjusted with other
The quality of teaching is the most important factor in raising
the educational level and realizing Lisbon objectives. That is
why many European countries have increased professional
autonomy of the teachers and enabled them a more flexible
fulfilment of increasing number of work obligations (Eurydice,
2008). More open a curriculum is, greater autonomy it provides
for the teachers at the level of content, level of difficulty
(deepening of content), work forms and in didactic approaches
of learning and teaching. But with increase of teacher’s auton-
omy his level of professional qualification for a responsible
planning and implementing of educational work should also
“grow”. This also places greater responsibility to the educa-
tional system at Faculties of Education and additional profes-
sional training of teachers.
Whether teachers at primary level are aware of the impor-
tance of cartographic literacy as a part of functional literacy and
whether they are appropriately trained for this kind of literacy is
certainly a question of further research.
Teacher with lack of appropriate knowledge on cartographic
literacy in combination with an open curriculum pays far less
attention to this topic during classes.
That is why teacher training and paying attention to carto-
graphic literacy either in curricula or in textbook sets is of great
impotence and therefore slightly concretely sets objectives and
slightly more guided teachers are very important for carto-
graphic literacy.
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