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Without Geography, you’re nowhere...

There’s an amusing YouTube clip in which TV presenter Jay Leno stops passers-by, of all ages, in a US shopping mall, and asks them simple geographical questions such as, “What are people from Denmark called?” and “What is the highest mountain in the world?”

Education
By BISP

Tuesday 2 April 2019, 11:00AM


Photo: Artem Bali

Photo: Artem Bali

Caught between the excitement of be­ing on TV and the embarrassment that they clearly don’t have a clue what to answer, the respondents’ anxiety is palpable. Some, not wanting to lose face, have a gallant but ultimately calamitous stab: “Denmarkian” and “Mount Rushmore.”

I’d like to think there were many interviewees that weren’t included in the cut because their plausible answers wouldn’t have made for fun viewing, but I can’t say that with any convic­tion. In truth, I believe geographical illiteracy is a much wider problem than it ought to be, and not just in Leno’s country. There is something surely intrinsically important about knowing simple things like where people come from, where places are and something of what these places are like, not to mention how this knowledge can be practically applied in everyday life and work situations. This is what Geogra­phy teaches, and a whole lot more.

Every day that you open a newspa­per or, more likely, an online news site, there are headline stories that require a sense of geographical understand­ing. Today’s most pressing issues are geographical ones to a large degree, including: population growth; rapid urbanisation; the growing global mid­dle class; the economic rise of China and India; rising inequality; trade wars; political unrest and separatist movements; the changing technolo­gies which are redefining space and distance; mass immigration; mass tourism (think Phuket); and globalisa­tion itself.

Then of course there’s the complex web of environmental issues centred around human-induced climate change, including: extreme weather; soil ero­sion; loss of biodiversity; conflicts over water, food and energy; and the deadly proliferation of wastes such as plastics (think Phuket again). These issues need tackling urgently and no other school subject gets to tackle them, or at least address them, in a holistic way like Geography does. But more impor­tantly Geography has the potential to inspire students to really care about these issues and nurture values of global citizenship.

We hope that, with exposure to Geography, many students will end up tackling global problems head-on in their careers. Those that don’t will nonetheless conduct their lives in a responsible way so as to promote a collective stewardship of the planet. More­over, in this age of crowdsourcing, their values may yet spread influence.

But what about those that don’t feel inspired in their lessons, nor learn the values that Geography can give? Well, at the very least, they have an op­portunity to gain some understanding of places and thereby avoid looking foolish when the next Jay Leno visits their mall and asks if they want to be on TV.

– Philip Tucker


Philip Tucker is the Head of Humanities at British International School, Phuket – BISP. For more information, visit them at www.bisphuket.ac.th or call +66 (0) 76 335 555

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