Education Chat

Chat Transcript: Learning the World

Barbara Chow, vice president of the National Geographic Society's Education Foundation, took questions the importance of geography to today's students and the challenges of strengthening the role of international education in the curriculum.
Sponsored by:

Learning the World (April 27, 2005)

GUEST: Barbara Chow, vice president, National Geographic Society’s Education Foundation

Kathleen Kennedy Manzo (Moderator):
Welcome to Education Week’s live chat on international studies and geography education. We are joined live by Barbara Chow, Vice President of the National Geographic Society’s Education Foundation, which has been instrumental in promoting geography standards and professional development for teachers in order to strengthen the subject’s role in the curriculum. Ms. Chow has said there is a crisis in geography education, given students’ general lack of knowledge of the world. At a time when policymakers and business leaders are expressing similar concerns, particularly in students’ preparation for living and working in a global society, a growing cadre of educators is working to infuse more international content into the curriculum. I’m Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, an associate editor for Education Week, covering curriculum and standards. I’ll be moderating this session. There are already a number of questions and comments for Ms. Chow, so let’s start the discussion…

Question from George Simpson, Special ED Parapro, Monroe Primary, Walton Co.,GA:
Is there a weekly newspaper for the elementary school relating to geographical news in the world and how do we subscribe?

Barbara Chow:
There are many sources of good geographic information for school-age children. Two publications that we at NGS offer include Explorer Magazine, an award winning curriculum based magazine for children in grades 3-6 which provides core goegraphy, social studies and science content--tied to national standards. Each issue includes at least one map. In addition, we offer a twice weekly online news digest on, called EarthCurrent. Compiled by our Librarcy Services, EarthCurrent provides EdNet members the same information that NGS explorers, researchers and writers use.

Kathleen Kennedy Manzo (Moderator):
I would also add that there are several organizations that have been working to impact policy in this area or provide resources for teachers. The Asia Society has been one of the leading organizations on international education ( Also see the North Carolina Center for International Understanding ( and the International Studies Schools Association at the University of Denver (

Question from Catherine Scherer, President: Simon and Barklee, Inc.:
Good morning, Barbara - What are your recommendations for folding international studies into a classroom day packed with mandated academics? And what kinds of material is available for cash-strapped schools?

Barbara Chow:
What a great question! There is, in fact, a sizeable education coalition that has come together around international education in the schools that is hosted by the Asia Society. Among the recommendations from their National Commission on Asia and International Studies in the Schools is that schools:

*Specify international studies content in local standards and curriculum *Develop a plan with goals and targets to increase the number of students taking advanced courses such as Advanced Placement World History, Human Geography and world languages *Purchase high-quality instructional materials

For more information and additional resources, visit

In the meantime, for cash-strapped schools, look for resources online, such as the free map and lesson plan site established by NGS, called Xpeditions at

Or look for support from museums and other international education experts like Asia Society at

Hope this is helpful info.

Question from Veronica Rojas, Student, Rio Hondo College:
Do you see GIS - Geographical Information Systems, playing a greater role in teaching geography and international education in schools’ curricula?

Barbara Chow:
Excellent and very pertinent question. Geographical Information Systems (GIS) are a rapidly maturing technology that is spreading dynamically throughout business and government for purposes that range from coordinating air, truck, and rail transportation, monitoring public utilities, maintaining public land records, fighting crime and much more.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that 75,000 new jobs are being created each year using these technologies. Needless to say, the demand for well-trained GIS professionals is large and growing.

Unfortunately, K-12 schooling in the U.S. is not keeping pace.

A 2003 article in the Journal of Geography by Joseph Kerski of the United States Geological Survey reports that less that 2% of U.S. high schools have implemented GIS instruction. In addition to the workforce and career need, GIS education has been demonstrated to be a very effective way to connect K-12 students with their communities through what is known as “community mapping” where students conduct projects for the benefit of the community.

Various organizations, including Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI), have strong programs to support broader extension of GIS into the nation’s schools, but much remains to be done.

Comment from Amy Dwyer, Technolgoy Coordinator, Elementary Workshop Montessori School:
Do you think that our lack of geography knowledge goes deeper than school children? Maybe we need a national campaign for adults too.

Question from Fred Patterson, IT Contractor with the US Department of Education:
Two of my four children have completed, and two are currently enrolled in, the International Baccalaureate Program in our local secondary school. This program is deserving of its excellent reputation and students learn as much or more than I did many years ago before the curriculum was “watered down”. Why can’t school districts expand some of these quality courses and present them as the core requirement for all students in the school--not just those who choose the IB diploma? I would think the increase in cost would be minimal.

Barbara Chow:
The International Baccalaureate is, indeed, a powerful program that offers three courses of study in international education, one for primary schools, one for middle schools and the “Diploma” program for highschoolers.

I believe that it is hard for schools—-facing pressure from all sides to increase time in the school day and needing to meet No Child Left Behind requirements—-to create the public will necessary to adopt successful models, like the IB program, the new AP Human Geography course offered by the College Board, and others.

For more on the IB program visit:

For more on the AP Geography course visit:

Thanks for the question!

Question from Dr. Matthew M. Delaney, NBCT, Whitman-Hanson Regional School District:
As we address the issue of presenting a world view to students, it brings to mind the homogeneity that we are establishing in the US, with look-alike malls, housing developments, car dealerships, fast food, cable TV, etc., while we increasingly lose our distinctive regional characteristics. For better or worse, this “Americanism” is rapidly spreading throughout the world. Do you feel that this has an underlying impact on our understanding of the importance (or need) of acquiring greater knowledge of world geography?

Barbara Chow:
This is an important question, and it relates to the relationship between “globalization” and “local autonomy,” which is a key topic of geographic study.

Clearly, ‘homogenization” of culture is an ongoing process in the world today and perception of regional differences is diminishing. Nonetheless, we are seeing reenergized efforts at promoting local differences in our country and around the world in social, cultural, religious, and political arenas.

Dealing with this issue involves improving the geographic literacy of Americans. Studies conducted over the last twenty years consistently show that Americans possess a poor understanding of geography. This stands in stark contrast to the leadership role that America plays in the rapidly globalizing and interconnected world of the 21st century.

As a result, the need for understanding global connections and exercising informed choices extends to all of us.

Comment from Euthemia Gilman, Principal, Silver Hill Elementary School, Haverhill, MA:
Massachusetts did 13 rewrites of our History curriculum Frameworks. In the last rewrite, geography took a back seat to ancient cultures, giving grade 5 us history teachers no foundation to lay their history on. With the influx of ELL students in our area, I am looking for arguments to persuade Central Office that geography is more than using a on-Star button - it explains the reasons of world trade, the history of immigration - I will push for buying new texts even though there is no money but we have NO Grade 4 geography books in a system of 8200 sstudents!

Question from Nancy Nanney, Chair, Humanities Division, West Virginia University at Parkersburg:
How do you think that we in higher education can help to promote international education in the K-12 curricula?

Barbara Chow:
Higher education faculties have a wealth of intellectual capital to share with K-12 teachers and students. For nearly 20 years NGS has invested in a program called state geographic alliances. These programs pair academic geographers with K-12 teachers conducting professional development institutes and workshops that help teachers improve their knowledge of geography as well as their teaching skills.

Any offer by members of university faculties to share their knowledge through workshops are likely to be gratefully accepted by K-12 teachers and school districts.

Universities can expand their outreach efforts to K-12 schools. These programs also have the potential to reduce the need for remedial teaching when students enter college.

Question from Dr. Somyos Lorwatanapongsa, teacher, Redeemer International school(RIST), Bangkok, Thailand:
The knowledge of world geography will equip our children with current information about the world. How can the knowledge be integrated across the curriculum to address the world and local issues without hurting the international relations? Why don’t the US school boards accept the importance of international education, which is rather popular in major cities around the world. Such education will allow students of all faiths and races learn to live together and find solutions to the world challenges. Thanks

Barbara Chow:
US school boards face difficult choices given educational demands and limited resources. However, I see growing recognition on the part of school administrators and teachers that understanding the fundamentals of international social, cultural and political issues is important.

We have long encouraged teachers to integrate geographic concepts in the instruction of other subjects. The Association of American Geographers, for example, is developing modules on international issues for classroom use as is the Asia Society and other internationally focused organizations.

Our own experience has shown that geography information can be used effectively in teaching reading and math; Geography offers a fine context for understanding how graphic information is conveyed

Question from Beth Marchant; Director, QuarkNet; University of Notre Dame:
I have heard a person from the National Security Agency (NSA) say that the best way to help our students fight terrorism is for them to take a foreign language class (which also teaches about the culture). What are your thoughts on this?

Barbara Chow:
We believe that a greater geographic understanding of the world,including foreign language acquisition, can help reduce global conflicts and improve cooperative solutions. Increasingly, as the world’s economies become more interconnected - this understanding will form the essential basis of twenty-first century citizenship.

Comment from Ashley Johnson, 5th grade teacher, Link Elementary School:
As a history teacher, I appreciate the concern that you have for our nation’s youth and the lack of knowledge that they have pertaining to world issues. In my classroom we do discuss some issues that appear on the CNN website on a regular basis, however I beleive that the problem is two fold - parents and time. Many of our students come to us today with no foundation whatsoever to build upon and with so much state testing being required (fifth graders in Texas must pass 3, but soon to be 4, state tests) teachers are spending more time working on getting test scores up and less time with what I consider to be more important things such as what is going on in the world around us.

Question from Sarah Witham Bednarz, Associate Professor of Geography, Texas A&M University:
Over the last 20 years the state-based Alliances have made tremendous headway in promoting geography and world awareness in US schools. What resources are needed to continue this effort for international education through geography?

Barbara Chow:
Significant new resources will be needed to increase students knowledge of the world. We know from the National Geographic/Roper Survey of Geographic Literacy that American students trail their peers in other countries by a significant margin. We hope the federal government will recognize the importance of geographic literacy to American students and will help fund this goal. Of the core academic subjects defined in the federal No Child Left Behind Act, only geography education receives no resources or support.

High quality professional development for thousands of teachers each year will be needed to ensure world class instruction in geography and other international subjects.

Kathleen Kennedy Manzo (Moderator):
There have been a number of questions on how to integrate geography and an international theme into the curriculu. I should mention that the Goldman Sachs Foundation and the Asia Society have identified model programs for international studies that may inform efforts at other schools/districts. The awards program has recognized a number of approaches to infusing global knowledge into the curriculum and provides some information on how this can be done. For more information, go to

Question from Bill Eberle, Teacher, World Communication, Philadelphia School Districts:
What kind of job can you get for a degree in geography besides planning and education

Barbara Chow:
Geographic education leads to thousands of different kinds of jobs in both the public and private sectors. In the private sector these include the areas of marketing, avertising, transportation, energy, agriculture. Geographic knowledge can help you in jobs such as environmental management and remediation, architecture, mining, real estate, travel industry, air traffic control, anthropology. In the public sector geographers work in every agency from the Census to the State Department, and at every level from local to national.

Comment from C.A.R sdudent, R.P.H.S, Acedemic Decathlon:
Is there any way to incorporate a discussion of the world and geography, to our families, without boring them??

Kathleen Kennedy Manzo (Moderator): I’d like to partially answer this question--Perhaps as an academic decathlete, you could offer some insight into this yourself...From my own family experience I have observed that children are very curious about the world. My 4 1/2 year old can tell you where Madagascar and Costa Rica are located, because his favorite frogs live there...and we’ve gone from the amphibian book to the map to the encyclopedia and the Internet to answer his questions about those places. My first grader is similarly curious and concerned about Indonesia and other regions impacted by the tsunami and she has sought out other information as well. These are all great opportunities to fuel interest about the world.

Question from M.P Rosa Parks H.S:
As a High School student I find that my other peers find it easier when they are given examples from the “everyday life” to understand the topic that the teacher is trying to teach. Dont you think that it would be appropriate to base the teaching on things that most of us student have experienced?(For example, the Tsunami in India)

Barbara Chow:
Thanks for your question. It’s great to hear from a student. Geography is everyday life. The discipline is an essential 21st Century skill that addresses the global economy, cultural understanding, environmental decisionmaking, and more—it is applicable from expanding one’s own horizions through personal travel to addressing local issues like crime, land use, and more.

I completely agree that the real world is the best context for understanding geography. For example, the recent tsunami in Asia tragically demonstrated the connections between transportation, economy and livelihood, housing, schooling, public health, and more.

Closer to home the new Community Mapping movement has students studying everything from local crime (stolen vehicles and burglaries) to environmental issues (local pollution sources) to land use planning, and more.

Kathleen Kennedy Manzo (Moderator):
I’m sure this discussion will go on in the field. Unfortunately, that’s all the time we have for this chat. Thank you all for your participation and your important questions. A transcript will soon be available on You can read my story on the effort to expand international studies in schools at

The Fine Print

All questions are screened by an editor and the guest speaker prior to posting. A question is not displayed until it is answered by the guest speaker. We cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered, or answered in the order of submission. Guests and hosts may decline to answer questions. Concise questions are encouraged.

Please be sure to include your name and affiliation when posting your question.’s Online Chat is an open forum where readers can participate in a give- and-take discussion with a variety of guests. reserves the right to condense or edit questions for clarity, but editing is kept to a minimum. Transcripts may also be reproduced in some form in our print edition. We attempt to correct errors in spelling, punctuation, etc. In addition, we remove statements that have the potential to be libelous or to slander someone. In cases in which people make claims that could be libelous, we will remove the names of institutions and departments. But in those cases, we will not alter the ideas contained in the questions.

Please read our privacy policy if you have questions. Editors