Dalhousie professor says more Geography needs to be taught in schools

HALIFAX – Most of us turn to Google Maps these days to find our destination. But people may be depending on technology too much, especially young people. A Dalhousie professor thinks that’s the case, and students are losing the real meaning of geography.

It’s pretty easy to type in a city and find it’s location on the computer. But, could you do it on your own? Furthermore, could you tie the location to an industry, terrain, or any distinctive figure? That’s a problem says Dalhousie University Professor James Boxall. “The trick is to put it in the context of something about that place, so you remember the place,” says Boxall, “not memorize the location of something.”

The Director of the GI Science Centre at Dalhousie says teachers often don’t have the expertise to teach geography — which means students don’t get the benefit of that experience. “Probably fifty per cent of the teachers have no background in geography, have never taken a course, have never learned during their BEd programs or professional development, how to actually teach what real geography is, which goes beyond maps,” says Boxall.

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Things changed with Google. “People are feeling that Geography isn’t that important because we have Wikipedia and Google Earth now, and so, who needs to know anything,” says Boxall.

After teaching in the school system for a decade, Boxall moved on to Dalhousie where he’s been for 22 years. He tests his students and the change is startling. “Probably the last thirty years in tests, the average might have been seventy per cent correct,” says Boxall. But he notes, “(It) has probably gone down to about fifty per cent. It just is indicating something is missing. we’re missing something in geography in schools.”

Students in Nova Scotia learn Geography up until Grade 9, but in high school the subject is optional. Professor Boxall says that’s one of the problems.

Boxall was recently appointed as a Governor of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and plans to use his role to improve Geography education. “We’re actually as a community looking at what resources can put together and support teachers and enhance geography,” says Boxall.

He has established a foundation which he says will bring in funding to help teachers get trained in Geography, with the hope that their skills can be passed along to the students.

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