Saturday, April 3, 2010

A Case for the Return of Geography

I am a Geography teacher. If I talk in favour of the discipline, it won’t surprise anyone. Geography is too important to be ignored because if there is no Geography, we surely are nowhere. The discipline of Geography, beside studying man in relation to his environment, is a bridge between physical and social sciences. This makes Geographers the most informed citizens of the world.

When we talk of Geography, many people think of places, rocks and rainfall, but as a discipline it is much more than rocks and rainfall. It is a very broad subject that many see as a jack of all trade. Traditionally, we know that Geography is divided into, Physical and Human.

While Physical Geography looks at our worl as a planet in the Solar System, paying attention to its workings as a planet, Human Geography view our world as our home; as a home of human. Under Physical Geography we study landforms (Geomorphology), weather and climate (Climatology) Water and river action (Hydrology) Soil and soil distribution (Soil Geography) Spatial patterns of flora and fauna (Biogeography) and so on. In Human Geography we study man’s economic activities (Economic Geography) Population distribution and dynamics (Population Geography) Settlements patterns (Settlement Geography) Spatial expression of politics (Political Geography), Man-environment relationship of disease and healthcare (Medical Geography), and so on.

The academic discipline of Geography is classified into Regional and Systematic Geography. While regional geography study regions as a whole, holistic study of a given region where its physical and human features are studied in detail, systematic geography studies each sub-discipline (like medical geography, geomorphology, spatial organisation of societies, climatology) separately.

With the changes the discipline has passed through from the 1960s to date, ranging from the quantitative revolution to radical geography, the discipline became a plural-paradigm discipline with many traditions. Broadly geography has four traditions, namely Man-land tradition (view the discipline from environmental determinism perspective), Area study tradition (view the discipline as a study of regions) the Spatial Analysis tradition (views the discipline from quantitative and scientific perspective), and Earth Science tradition (view the discipline with the physical geography bias). All these have impacted on the discipline and how it is being taught and studied in Nigeria.

I took the trouble of giving these introductory details in order to put into perspective my case. In the past, pupils in elementary and primary school have Geography and History (Geo/His) in their timetable. Therefore, from primary school, children would learn about their immediate environment and their country. Some of us, not too long ago have read books like Zaman Mutum da Sana’arsa, Ikon Allah (Duniya Sama da Kasa), Wakar Najeriya ta Shehu Shagari and so on as supplementary texts. That has helped us a great deal.

When children learn Geography and History at primary school level, they learn about their immediate environment, the nation and different countries of the world. That makes them open minded, tolerant and wise. That understanding about one’s country diversity helps to create strong awareness of the different parts of a nation and the implications for that.

However, at a point, Nigerian educational policy makers (I learnt) decided to dump the teaching of Geography for something called Social Studies (because the US does so). That was the beginning of our problem in Nigeria. Children have to wait for another ten or more years (during NYSC) to learn about their country. That gave rise to many stereotypes between the different regions of the country. While southerners think that the north is a desert and people move around with daggers, northerners believe that southerners are cannibals that corps members have to be introduced to communities as ‘government property’ or else be eaten.

All this outburst resulted from our recent visit to Niger republic. During our stay in Niamey we paid a visit to their Educational Resource Centre known as INDRAP and to the Museum. The visit was not only an eye opener but also a triggered to my outburst. At INDRAP, we have seen how an educational organisation is supposed to work. When we visited the Geography section, we learnt how important regional geography of Niger republic is. Children learn from primary school about their country, they become well informed about the different peoples living in the country, their natural resources and so on. The same day, at the museum, the uranium gallery attendant after taking us round was asked about the discovery of oil in Niger by a student. In his explanation, he said ‘we are sure that our country must have oil, how can you explain lack of oil in Niger while we are bordered by Nigeria, Chad and Libya, all oil rich nations. All of us, geographers were impressed with his simply logic that is also geographical.

Social Studies, no matter how much we like it, cannot be a replacement of Geography and History in our primary school. It is unfortunate that, we start the teaching of geography from SSI. Students are expected to study physical, regional and human geography in addition to map reading within three years. This is neither helpful nor realistic. When a student goes to the University, nobody pays attention to teach him regional geography anymore. There may not be more than three courses to cover regional geography syllabus. In the end, we produce geographers that don’t know about places. We teach systematic geography because it is the vogue. Our students know the stuff but are poor when it comes to places like the Americans.

With the happenings in this country, it is very important that our children learn from the foundation about what made up the country not just talking about ethnic groups. It would do us no harm, if the teaching of geography is re-introduced in the curriculum even if social studies will be retained. I hope, other geographers will write and educate the public, let us join this debate.

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Kano, Kano, Nigeria
Dr. Yusuf M. Adamu is a Professor of Medical Geography at the Bayero University Kano. He is a bilingual novelist, a poet, and writes for children. He is interested in photography and run a photo blog ( All the blogs he run are largely for his hobbies and not his academic interests. Hope you enjoy the blogs.