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Geography really does matter

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Claire Winter Claire Winter | 10:25 UK time, Monday, 4 July 2011

Whilst I am proud to have achieved a GCSE and an A-level in geography, nothing beats the experience of travelling first hand. My favourite memories as a child were going to France on holiday, living in Italy for several months and America for over a year and a half - all whilst I was still in primary school.

Buying croissants in bakeries in France, wandering the streets of Rome and visiting Cape Canaveral to see where NASA launched the space shuttle in Florida. The memories are etched in my mind. Trying figs from a market in Italy for the first time, I will never forget their colour, texture or taste.

Studying geography @ Pressmaster - Fotolia.com

I also loved visiting my granny in Northumberland, enjoying days out at the vast white beaches and eating sandwiches nestled amongst the windswept sand dunes for protection against the howling wind. We even attempted a swim in the North Sea during the Easter holidays, which is not for the faint hearted!

The best way to learn about a country is to actually visit it. But good geography teaching is also needed. A recent Ofsted report has said that the teaching of this subject is not good enough in half our schools. The obvious fall-out from this is that some children have a woeful lack of knowledge about capital cities, continents, and world affairs.

According to one report, most primary school teachers lacked specialist knowledge in the subject, leading them to broadcast generalised stereotypes about different countries and cultures. Moreover the subject has practically disappeared in a tenth of primary schools.

Interestingly in the classroom children could talk about development issues in Kenya and Africa as a whole but could not find the country on the map. Perhaps going back to basics and teaching kids how to read a map is key to further their understanding of the subject and the world they live in?

Many secondary schools now teach geography and history in one humanities lesson. And worryingly 97 secondary schools failed to enter one pupil for Geography GCSE in 2007 and by 2009 that number had increased to 127. Whilst this is a relatively low number given there are 4,000 secondary schools in the country, there would be an outcry if it were another subject, like maths.

A report by the Geographical Association recommended better training for teachers, a stronger focus on geography during the first three years of secondary education and an increase in the number of fieldtrips for all year groups.

As parents, we don’t need to take our children to exotic locations to cultivate their interest in geography or the world. There are many online resources to stimulate their natural curiosity and interest in their surroundings. BBC Scotland has a great site for kids. 

Some simple practical things can really help too. Buy a map of the world stick it up on the wall so they know where they live in relation to friends and family. Teach your kids where countries are and the names and location of their capital cities. Talk to them about different countries, cultures and visit museums and places of interest in Britain and further afield, if you can.

The BBC's Things To Do site is also a great source of ideas for activities across the UK.

Claire Winter is a member of the BBC Parent Panel.

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