Map of the world

By Theresa Wells

“Do you know nobody in my class knows where the Philippines is?” she asks. “Most of them think it is in the Caribbean, except the kids who are from the Philippines. And nobody knows where Egypt is, where is Egypt anyhow? And Brazil, where are they hiding Brazil?” she continues with a frown.

“You know they just don’t teach us any geography,” she finishes. “Do you people forget that just because you know this stuff doesn’t mean WE know this stuff?”

She stares at me balefully, indicting me for the failure to teach her geography and the failure of the other adults in her world to do the same. I don’t have the heart to tell her that few adults could point to the Philippines on a map, and that while most of them have a general sense of where Brazil is few could place it exactly.

It’s one of those things you don’t think about all that often – world geography – but the truth is that it is important. What is the point in reading the news of the world if you don’t have a grasp of where countries are situated and who is rubbing shoulders with whom? How does it all make sense if you don’t have that context, that fundamental road map of the layout of our world?

The kid tells me they spend a lot of time on the geography of Canada, but far less is spent on world geography. This seems to be an oversight given the nature of our world, where news of an uprising in a tiny country far away can be found on Twitter moments after it occurs. Where once the world was far smaller and most people would never visit Tanzania or Uzbekistan we find ourselves today in a time when travel to exotic destinations is far more common, and where the news of what is occurring in those places has an impact in our own world.

One of the fundamental beliefs I hold is that we are now raising our children to be not only citizens but also global citizens. They no longer belong simply to the nation of their birth or choice but to the world, and as such they need an understanding of that world, beginning with the very basics of knowledge – geography.

I know they have studied world geography in the years my daughter has been in school, but perhaps it is one of those things that needs refreshing every so often. I don’t just mean that for students, either, as most adults could benefit from some time with an atlas, globe or online map remembering how to find Brazil, and where the Philippines are located. I know my own knowledge is a bit sketchy in this regard, my years of geography education confined to colouring little maps according to a legend that said things like: “Colour Turkey yellow”.

Will an understanding of world geography change my life, or my daughter’s? Probably not, but it provides one of those basics of knowledge that stands us in good stead throughout our life. If you don’t know geography then how can you ever understand songs about how Constantinople became Istanbul? How do you ever understand the intricacies of some of world politics without an understanding of how national boundaries have changed over time?

Geography is likely the subject in school that elicited groans, but as our world becomes a more connected place it becomes more and more vital for all of us to understand not only our own nation’s map but also the map of the world.

All I know is that after my daughter’s geographic-related outburst I went home and opened a rather dusty old atlas. You see I’m afraid I was a little shaky on the location of Senegal so I went and looked it up – and then I left the atlas on her bed, for those times when she forgets where we hide Brazil.

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