Discovering Geography – The International Geography Youth Summit
Three long-time AAG members met up recently at the 4th International Geography Youth Summit (IGYS) in Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore), India. The IGYS was developed as part of The Institute of Geographical Studies (TIGS) in Bengaluru. Both are the brainchilds of AAG member, Dr. Chandra Shekhar Balachandran, who founded TIGS in 2000. Together with collaborators and partners in India and the US, TIGS organizes year-round workshops with teachers, parents and students in Indian urban and rural schools to introduce geography as culturally relevant and meaningful. This kind of geography challenges traditional textbook approaches and extends learning beyond the classroom.
Dr. Balachandran developed the IGYS to encourage students to develop their own geographical research on locally relevant social and environmental issues and then present their work in an academic setting. This year, more than 160 students, aged 11-17 years old, convened at the Vidyanjali Academy for Learning in Bengaluru, to share their findings at IGYS-2018.
Students wrote and submitted abstracts online beforehand, and presentations were organized into concurrent thematic sessions, modeled after the AAG annual meeting format, with plenty of time for Q and A. For many students, some of whom are from rural and under-resourced schools and who are supported by a local NGO partner, this is their first time doing their own research, and making a pubic presentation. Dr. Heidi J. Nast, Professor of Geography and International Studies at DePaul University, has fund-raised for TIGS in the US for the past eight years and has attended the past two Summits. As she observes “the student enthusiasm at the Summit is infectious. The topics the students raise and the concerns they have are helping us to think about Indian geography in entirely new ways.”
This year, Dr. Sue Roberts from the University of Kentucky attended IGYS for the first time and gave the Keynote address. She says, “What impressed me most was the way the students took geographical concepts and ran with them. They generated truly fresh ways of approaching complex problems that we adults and professionals can sometimes make rather boring” and she added “the students had no problem connecting their research findings to practical action.”
One team of students, for example, tackled the issue of proliferating potholes in their streets. After examining the geographical prevalence of potholes and thinking through their many spatial effects on social and economic well-being, the students met with local officials who responded with more urgency than had been shown previously. The students additionally filled two potholes on their own, committed themselves to filling two more each month, and they created a website to report and repair potholes.
Three young girls gave the plenary paper, “taboo geographies of menstruation,” based on work they had presented at the IGYS 2017. They questioned why menstruating women are seen as polluting and placed at spatial distance from others, and suggested culturally sensitive ways for changing this.
These are but two examples of how children are taking their geography research work to interventions in the world around them.
There is much AAG members around the world can learn from the work of TIGS to generate awareness of geography and to support geographical research in schools. To find out more about this exciting initiative in India, please visit www.tigs.in . A growing number of AAG members are giving financial support to the work of TIGS through its partner organization in the US: Dharani USA Inc. (a non-profit 401-3c organization). Information on how to donate is on the website.