Children's Health & Safety Association

Issue 43: July 2018

Saturday, 28 September 2013 19:58

Canadian Students Can't Answer Rudimentary Geography Questions

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August 15, 2013 – I was more than just a little astonished when I learned that Canadian university students were not able to answer rudimentary geography questions such as identifying Africa and Europe on a world map or locating the Atlantic Ocean. That these students fell through the cracks within our education system does not surprise me. What surprises me is that regardless of the consistent inundation of daily world news through a vast array of media communications, these students have a limited scope or understanding of geography – almost as if they have disengaged themselves from anyone or anything outside their clique.

Judith Adler, a sociology professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland had a suspicion that the undergrads in her classroom had no idea where some of the countries were located when she would mention them in class studies. Upon giving her students a geography pop quiz, she found that "…a sizeable portion of the students would have no idea where the Mediterranean Sea is, circle Africa to indicate Europe and locate England and Ireland in Africa." An astonishing 75% of her students failed the quiz!

"If we continue to short change Canadian children in terms of a solid education in geography, we’re essentially robbing them of their potential and capacity to engage fully in society as part of an informed citizenry.  Not only is this grossly unfair to today’s students, but it also unduly compromises Canada’s future in a globalized world."  

Connie Wyatt Anderson
Chair of Canadian Geographic
Globe and Mail - 2013

“…some of these students will be paying off student loans by perhaps teaching English in Korea, and we’ve had young people of a recent generation risking their lives in Afghanistan, and some will be graduating and getting a job offer in Brazil, maybe,” says Ms. Adler.

The Globe & Mail published a story written by Connie Wyatt Anderson, Chair of Canadian Geographic Education in which she made the following insightful statements.

"The erosion of geography as a curriculum staple has been a decades-long project wilfully undertaken by government. There’s a terrible irony in that this assault on our understanding of the sense of physical place – where we stand in our world – has coincided with globalization, and massive population shifts."

"What does it do to a sense of national identity when you don’t know where you are on the map and, in terms of human geography, who you are as a people? As a teacher, I’ve seen the difference geography can make in my students. Those who embrace it – who 'get it' – develop a “sense of place.” They understand that who they are is determined in part, by where they are. Undeniably, geography contributes to a sense of identity on a personal level and collectively as a nation."

"The overarching solution is strengthening geographic education from kindergarten through Grade 12. Sustained emphasis on geography in the curriculum is a prerequisite to solving geographic illiteracy. Curriculum alone is only part of the solution. Geography needs teachers – teachers whose passion is fostered and enhanced by geography-specific professional development, teachers who will fight to ensure that geography is given its due, along with other core subjects such as geography’s boon companion, history."

geo2"Geography is a building block of civil society. The vibrancy of a democracy is directly linked to a geographic education. Geography is critical to understanding Canada’s challenges, such as sending troops to Mali, building pipelines in B.C., addressing treaty rights of first nations or opening the Northwest Passage to tourism."

"If we continue to short change Canadian children in terms of a solid education in geography, we’re essentially robbing them of their potential and capacity to engage fully in society as part of an informed citizenry. Not only is this grossly unfair to today’s students, but it also unduly compromises Canada’s future in a globalized world."

Joseph Kerski, Geographer and Education Manager with the Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc. (ESRI) in Broomfield, Colorado stated, "The real tragedy is not that students don’t know where the Atlantic Ocean is, but how oceans function, why oceans are important to the health and climate of the planet, how oceans support economies, about coral reefs and other ocean life, about threats to the ocean, and so on."

"The tragedy is that very little of what I consider to be true geoliteracy is being rigorously taught and engaged with around the world:

  • core geographic content (such as sustainability, biodiversity, climate, natural hazards, energy and water),
  • the spatial perspective (such as holistic, critical, and spatial thinking about scale, processes, and relationships), and
  • geographic skills (such as working with imagery, GIS, GPS, databases and mobile applications)."

"While there are many fine exceptions, we need a much greater global adoption, beginning with valuing geography and geospatial as fundamental to every student’s 21st Century education," says Joseph Kerski.


The Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS) and Canadian Geographic Education have done more to promote geographic literacy in Canada than any other organization in the country by providing free tools for the classroom including learning activities such as resources on the boreal forest, energy use, watershed protection, the War of 1812, national parks, railways, football, capital cities and wind energy. They also provide take-away materials for students and teachers, as well as giant floor maps where students can literally interact with Canada’s geography. They have operated the Great Canadian Geography Challenge for 18 years as a way to create excitement and pique student's interest.

Are you geographically literate? Want to find out?

Test your knowledge of basic geography by taking Canadian Geographic’s Geo Quiz. Click on this link to pick a quiz. www.canadiangeographic.ca/geoquiz


To view the original story from CBC with Judith Adler, professor at Memorial University, please click on the following link: Students Don't Know Geography

Read 20304 times Last modified on Saturday, 19 July 2014 12:00


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