Michael Palin calls on schools to get kids out more

CHILDREN should go on geography field trips to fire their imagination and encourage them to study the subject, according to veteran adventurer Michael Palin.

The television presenter and Monty Python star said he believes it is vital pupils see the natural world for themselves and that youngsters are taken out of the classroom less often now than in the past.

Ahead of a speech on geography to the Prince’s Teaching Institute (PTI) later this week, in an event marking the body’s 10th anniversary, Palin stressed the importance of the topic.

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He said: “Geography itself is such a wide-ranging subject. It’s really about the study of the surface of the Earth, it’s relative to every single thing we do, what we eat, what transport we take to work, where we live, what houses are made of.

“It’s an issue that directly relates to what we know of the Earth.”

Palin, a former president of the Royal Geographical Society, said the subject must remain in the curriculum, and be well supported.
Geography field studies were introduced in Scotland eight years ago. According to the most recent statistics, from Education Scotland from 2009, there were 124 pupils studying Standard Grade, 49 studying Higher and nine doing Advanced Higher.

Some schools make use of facilities at Scotland’s National Centre for Excellence in Field Studies and Biodiversity Training in Blairgowrie to get pupils out of the classroom for day and residential programmes on geography.

Palin said the subject still needs to be popularised and work done to assess how to make geography interesting and appealing to pupils.

He said that his love of the subject began at an early age, thanks to “two very good teachers” and because of the opportunities to “get out of the school building”.

He said: “I know it’s a bit different now, partly because people have got laptops and don’t have to go out. We need to make sure that good teachers can fire the imagination of the children.

“I’m not saying that they don’t have enough field trips. I suspect it’s less now, there are all sorts of problems about taking children out of school, and the resources for the school itself.”

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He added that it is important for children to see things for themselves.

Palin, known for his travelogue television series such as Himalaya, Sahara and New Europe, said that if children are not given a geography education “they’re losing the ability to make up their own minds about the rest of the world”. Children should be taught facts and figures, Palin said, such as “where countries are, the physical world”.

Once the groundwork is done and pupils know how to do things like read a map, you can move on to issues like “how we share our resources, population growth, food supplies and deforestation”, he said.