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After reading this week’s articles about Memorial University students’ lack of basic geographic knowledge, I realized: the story is the same in every province.
In Quebec, it seems like geography makes the news only when the story is negative. Even then, people soon forget about the importance of geography. People don’t react when we cut an hour of geography teaching (after all, math is much more important). Yet, when Canadian students are unable to identify the Atlantic Ocean, there is public outcry. We can’t expect our children to excel in geography if we continue to cut geography classes.
For more than 15 years, I have taught social studies methods to future elementary teachers. Students regularly tell me they regret not taking geography seriously in high school. They tell me they learned to regurgitate facts — and then promptly forgot them. Now that they are interested, they are finally learning. Lets show our kids that geography is important and useful when they are in preschool and still curious about the world.
That older generations are shaking their heads at younger ones is nothing new. In 1960, my grandmother also complained that my father wasn’t learning enough in school. It’s easy to forget that much of our geographic education comes after we graduate from high school. I know where Kuwait is not because I learned to point it out on a map in school, but because of the Gulf War. Geographical knowledge is not just a product of our schooling; it’s also a product of our experiences.
But it’s not all bad news. Students in Quebec may not be able to recall hard geography facts like their parents can, but they do understand complex geographical issues such as energy dependence, waste management and aboriginal land claims.
Yes, we should be disappointed when we learn that our students lack geographic knowledge, but we must do something about it. It’s time to make a change in our attitudes toward geographical education. I will know when things have changed when parents are as disappointed with their child’s poor geography mark as with math.
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