Ex-Minister of Education Faßmann: “I wanted to be a truck driver”

Ex-Minister of Education Faßmann: “I wanted to be a truck driver”
“You see advertisements for a remedy for erection problems on television every day, and serious advertising for the corona vaccination should be banned?” – Train in the tunnel, but no light at the end: Ex-Minister Heinz Faßmann (ÖVP), President of the Academy of Sciences.

He actually wanted to be a truck driver, he is now President of the Academy of Sciences and was Minister of Education for the ÖVP. In an interview, geographer Heinz Faßmann talks about 60 years “geography and economics”-Instruction.

Mr Faßmann, in 1963 you were eight years old. At that time the Traunsee is for the last time frozen over. For the first time, however, the subject of geography was combined with economics. Later you studied both disciplines. Did you know 60 years ago that you wanted to be a geographer?

Heinz Fassmann: No, of course not. At that age I wanted to be a truck driver because I grew up in a car-loving household and because I always liked traveling the world.

The 1963 syllabus sometimes says: “Exercises in reading relief maps”. 2023 we have google maps What have been the biggest transformations in the last six decades for this school subject?

The school subject reflects the great global changes. The image of the global village is a true one. The world has also grown together due to technical possibilities, especially digitization. The origin of the products that accompany our daily life has become more diverse and multifaceted than ever before. An increase in prosperity was also possible for the populations of the Global South. Our discipline had to take up these changes, broaden its perspectives, explain the economic mechanisms and draw attention to the ecological consequences. The integration of current content into the lesson works much better today, because a lot of information, opinions and personal impressions can be integrated via the Internet. What has remained the same, despite globalization and digitization, are the top educational goals: critical and competent young people should leave the education system who have a place in
of society and can ensure their independent existence.

Many are still asking themselves: How do geography and economics go together?

Very good when both areas converge. Geography has to make concessions in terms of content, as do business studies and economics, and at the same time they are
required to convey basic concepts. Pricing, market mechanisms or basic economic policy models are to be passed on, as well as location factors,
demographic models, the importance of distance and the physical quality of spaces. Geography and economics are real life subjects, both affect the life chances of each individual and both areas are important for young people.

In your term of office as Austrian Minister of Education, did you have a question in this regard? perceived tension and how do you feel about this symbiosis?

Of course there is a tension, but that has been the case for many decades. Some university proponents of economics, but also of geography, each claim their own subject. It’s also about self-interest. Those who train large numbers of students for a clearly defined labor market also have a strong position when it comes to distribution issues in their own university. But the education system cannot create separate subjects for all educational tasks considered relevant. The hourly table would be overburdened. Combinations of subjects linked by an “And” are therefore common and necessary.

60 years of “GW lessons”: How popular is the subject among Austrian schoolchildren?

Seriously, this question is not easy to answer. I don’t know of any comprehensive survey of the popularity of the subjects. But my impression is positive. It’s a popular subject because it gives something like a world view and broadens horizons. It may not be as popular as Sport and Exercise, but it’s also less feared than Math or Latin. So: A good starting position.

“Geography and Economics” will become “Geography and Economics Education” from autumn. What will the change in the new curriculum do?

The stronger competence orientation and thus more freedom of the teachers to determine the actual teaching content. That’s a good thing, even though I suspect that textbooks will play an even greater role.

Why are geographies important for understanding economic, social and political conditions of a country relevant for the students of today?

Because economy, social structures and political conditions are not only the result of a historical development – the longue durée – but also of the possibilities of the geographical area. Despite or maybe even because of globalization, spatial differences are becoming more important.

What do you say to a child who is not interested in either geography or economics education?

Go for it or you’ll miss something like worldview.

What is still in the syllabus for GW lessons in a world from 1963: knowledge of the “significance of the climate for people, animals and plants”, “awareness of the connection between the peoples of Europe and the world” and an associated “respect for tolerance and Humanity”. Against the background of the current trouble spots in the world, could one claim that the combination of geography and economic education in Austria has proven its worth?

I think so, because people, societies, economic and geographical interests and spatially relevant behavior are behind the current crises, the war in Ukraine, but also the anthropogenic climate change. Bringing different disciplines together is the task of GW as a subject for explaining the world.

What are your hopes for this school subject in the coming decades?

Competent and enthusiastic teachers, because they are the decisive personalities in the classroom. School laws are important, curricula too,
Textbooks a little more so, but charismatic individuals who can pass on their enthusiasm are key.

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