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Tuesday 20 November 2018
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Commentary

The case for geography

AIYEGORO OME

guest columnist

FOLLOWING THE recent flooding there is much speculation about the causes, our lack of preparedness as well as plans to prevent further occurrences.

I have read an analysis by Michael Clarke, a former geographer, educator and principal of Trinity College, regarding deficiencies in our knowledge of geography and its relation to the recent flooding.

Clarke advocates that geography becomes a core subject in the national curriculum. Because at one level it helps us to understand what produces our weather and it is the only discipline that integrates the natural and human sciences.

The case that Clarke has made for geography as a core subject is that a lack of knowledge of geography “may well be to blame… for the thoughtless treatment of the physical environment which produces pollution and floods.”

He noted: “In 1969, geography (and history) was removed from the national curriculum both in the primary schools and in the lower forms (Forms 1-3) in secondary schools.”

Geography and history have been absorbed in a subject called social studies, which offers droplets of information instead of the rivers of knowledge that a country such as TT needs at its disposal.

Clarke wrote, “Nowadays, over 90 per cent of secondary school graduates… know little or nothing about geography – be it the geography of Trinidad and Tobago in particular or of the Caribbean in general. Unaware of an important 1969 decision, grandparents probably still assume that their grandchildren know at least what they had learnt in their time in primary school.”

The problem is also made worse by the dearth of TT geography graduates from UWI. And the apparent decline of the once very vibrant Geography Association.

As the website of the UWI St Augustine Geography Department states, geography was taught at UWI, Mona, since 1966 but few TT nationals completed the course in the subject.

I know for certain that prospective geography undergraduates who went to Jamaica were discouraged because they were told that geography was not a worthwhile pursuit because it only led students into teaching. The same thing was and is used by parents and teachers regarding the study of history.

I have information about one situation where a student was told that students should pursue geology instead of geography, because a graduate could make better money with the latter subject in our gas and oil-based economy.

I have further evidence that geography in one secondary school has been limited to two periods in the lower forms, leaving teachers in a quandary because they are not certain about what will happen with the subject in the upper forms.

According to the website of the UWI St Augustine Geography Department, the discussion about teaching geography there began 14 years ago in 2004, “This programme was established to remedy a perceived shortage of geography teachers in the nation, and to provide higher-level education to existing teachers, many of whom had not studied geography at the tertiary level.

“Alongside the formation of the Faculty of Food and Agriculture (FFA), the Department of Geography was established on 1st August 2012. Its positioning within the FFA allows the department to incorporate linkages between agriculture, food, and society within its broader array of research and learning themes.”

Clarke has suggested a two-step solution to the current situation:

“Step one has to be to restore geography as a core subject from primary school up to Form 3 in secondary schools, difficult though that may be. Step two is filling the geographical awareness void by constant public education.

“These two steps would be similar to those taken in the USA in 1970. Conscious of the need to give citizens increased awareness of their role in influencing the environment, American authorities decided to reintroduce geography and make it a core subject.”

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