Re-orienting Geography teaching

Simran Luthra

To be very honest, of all the subjects that people are asked to choose from as their favourite, geography is one that fares rather poorly. Clubbed in the social studies basket, it generates lesser interest or controversy than civics or history (which the NCERT has re-christened ‘Social and Political Life’) or economics which is regarded with a lot more reverence and considered as ‘serious’ as the natural sciences.

This has little to do with the inherent nature of the subject: it isn’t that geography as a subject doesn’t have much to offer. On the contrary, a look at the content – topics which deal with places, physical features of the earth, the climate, interaction between human beings and their environment, moving outward into the solar system and universe – basically understanding the earth – are all fascinating themes.

What most students and many teachers are left bereft of however, is a sense of what the subject is. The one aspect that may be the cause for the subject being taught in a rather dry, mechanical fashion could well be the teachers’ lack of sufficient understanding and appreciation of the nature of this discipline. Yemuna Sunny summarizes it well when she says: “School geography attempts to tell on one hand the laws of nature and on the other, the “development1” brought about by humans. But these discourses are isolated from each other.” It is owing to this ‘divide’ that textbooks contain that, Sunny argues, school geography fails to appeal to students, because it also forces teachers to teach geography in a manner which remains alienated from the lives of students.

I came across this video on youtube.com called ‘What is Geography2’ and strongly recommend social studies teachers, and particularly geography teachers to take a look at it. It’s quite basic really, but the aesthetic and powerful manner in which it communicates the nature of the subject is quite effective. As a starting point, it may even be a great idea to show students this video. I have seen it several times and enjoy watching it every time! One of the slides says: “It’s everything you buy. Everything comes from somewhere. A trip to the grocery store can take you around the world”; another says: “It’s what you listen to… music is influenced by regions of the world.” It is these truisms about the discipline, which if understood and appreciated by teachers and subsequently by students, that geography teaching and learning can become far more enjoyable, real, and relevant. One of the main challenges for geography teachers is hence, to relate the subject to the everyday lives of students – to make it come alive.

On being asked, a number of geography teachers shared that physical geography was a particularly difficult aspect of the subject to teach, since it is more akin to the natural sciences and devoid of the human element which the other aspects of geography deal with. Teaching topics such as latitudes and longitudes, or working with maps, learning about the physical features of the earth or the atmosphere becomes a mechanical process, whereby students are expected to be interested in phenomena or models of understanding which are obscure and unrelated to their daily lives. While it may not be possible for teachers to always relate these topics to students’ lived reality, teaching them in more interactive ways would certainly make the learning of physical geography less of a strain and more enjoyable for students. Here are some pointers and ideas which teachers may use:

The author has a Masters in English and is pursuing a Masters in Education from TISS, Mumbai. She has worked as a trainer, teacher and researcher in education. She can be reached at simranluthra@gmail.com.

This is an article for subscribers only. You may request the complete article by writing to us at editorial@teacherplus.org.