Geography through time and space

Srinivasan K

Studying the trends and patterns in geography from a book certainly helps, but what appears as understanding, most often ends up as knowledge and information if it is not reinforced by complementary real world experiences. Identifying the interactions between individuals, societies, and the physical environment demands teaching/facilitation through integrated learning. Setting the context of experiencing the real world opens a new window to an advanced understanding and thinking process. Perceived through this lens, we tried to integrate both physical and human interactions in a certain geographical location. The idea was to ensure that students acquire the finer elements of both scientific and socio-economic methodologies while processing information.

British-History The location we chose was the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which perhaps are considered the last refuge and cradle of a micro-evolution in the obscure lush green rainforests of India. They also house rare aboriginal populations, dating back to a lifestyle that is at least 8000 years old, which don’t practice either agriculture or cooking. These islands in the Bay of Bengal are a lost world with a wide variety of races, forests, and natural features. The location offered a unique opportunity to understand aspects of anthropology, environmental studies, socio-economic status, and also natural hazards. Students were grouped vertically across different ages between middle and high school. All these four areas of learning were carefully packaged under the bigger understanding of humanities in a confined geographical location. This integration of different subjects has been documented exclusively through ‘Creative Documentation’ workshops conducted by an amateur enthusiast. These workshops provided a platform to research photographing and video graphing styles (especially documentaries), writing scripts, and collating them to produce a final product. Students were encouraged to write a script that involved researching the anthropology and recent history of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, its physical geography, the socio-economic status of the people there, and the hazards and disasters that the region is prone to. Besides this, students were also asked to outline concepts and collect snapshots and videos to cover their areas of research. A brief glimpse of the research documentation is presented below.

Anthropology and recent history
Our understanding of the six aborigine tribal communities (four in Andamans – The Jarawas, Onges, Great Andamanese and the Sentinelese) (two in Nicobar – Shompens and Nicobarese) formed the basis for understanding the people of the ancient times. A theoretical study coupled with a visit to the anthropological museum offered an excellent learning about these populations and their living habits. We also had the rare opportunity to witness the movement of the Jarawas in the ‘South Jarawa Reserve’ while on our journey towards Baratang Caves.

Coral-observatrion The monument of the cellular jail told several painful stories of colonial rule. The students visited the jail, which also houses a historical museum that is an eye opener to freedom-related crimes. Then we visited Ross Island, once a bustling settlement of the British, occupied by the Japanese during World War II. The ruins on the island are a witness to nature’s control of its ecology. How this cluster of islands became a part of independent India became better established through these experiences of connection.

Physical geography
We understood that a series of natural forces, especially the monsoon rains of Asia and the warm waters of the tropics, shaped these islands into some of the most unique habitats in the world. The formation of Andaman and Nicobar islands is largely volcanic in nature. Some areas have shown continuous erosion and deposition. We witnessed some of these formations on Neil Island (calcareous white sandy beach, cliffs, arches, caves, and stacks) and on Baratang Island (caves with stalactites and stalagmites, mangroves, and lowland evergreen forest). We studied corals on Neil Island by taking a coral walk along Laxmanpur beach, a glass boat drive in Bharatpur beach, and snorkeling along the fringes of Havelock Island.

Baratang Caves located in Middle Andamans offered excellent learning while we travelled through mangrove and evergreen forests. The structure and function of both these vegetation were our focus before we reached the caves. The Baratang limestone caves have a geological history that dates back to 140 million years. These structures provided unique lessons both in-terms of their age and formation.

Socio-economic status
Neil Island, with a population of 4000 plus people, sustains exclusively on agriculture, fishing, tourism, and a small market area. A team of students undertook an extensive survey of the market area and other economic support to understand how the island sustains itself. At the time of survey, the students received varied responses to questions regarding the people’s culture, language, economic strata, and livelihood opportunities during different seasons. This interaction with the local people sensitized the students to the need to adapt to a given environment.

Coastal-featuresHazards and disasters
The Andaman and Nicobar islands were intensely affected by the tsunami of 2004. We studied the plate movements and the nature of hazards theoretically and assessed the impact of the tsunami, which caused the destruction of corals, on Neil Island during differential tide movement. Seeing the mud volcano on Baratang Island strengthened the students’ understanding of the hazards of seismic activity in this location. They also understood that these are the only active volcanoes present in India.

The programme with a trans-disciplinary approach offered a realistic enriching experience of various aspects of the islands and their peoples. According to Sherya Karnati of class 10, “This trip was an experience we will cherish for our lifetime. It taught us patience, responsibility, and teamwork.” The programme also sensitized the students to issues related to the impact of tourism, environment, food and hospitality, and lastly, life skills. “This trip has left us with beautiful memories of the beaches and the islands,” says Revanth Rao. The whole team appreciated the essence of simple living and the joy of this learning programme has left us deeply connected to the quote by Baba Diom, “In the end, we conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.”

The creative documentation video can be viewed here:
Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ef4H5xYBCo
Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGDOsmejd1g&feature=related

The author is the Coordinator of the IGCSE Programme and a geography teacher at Indus International School, Hyderabad. The concept for the programme that has been talked about in the article was designed and executed by the author. He can be reached at tropicalstorm@vsnl.net.