Classroom travels

5th September 2003 at 01:00
As part of Year 9 geography, pupils take an imaginary gap year between key stages 3 and 4 which they spend travelling around the world. On their "travels" they visit a range of countries including India, Australia, Mexico, Antarctica, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

We tried to develop a course that focused on the contemporary world, providing pupils with the opportunity to "visit" a variety of countries touching on geographical themes without getting bogged down by lengthy case studies that often lose pupils' interest.

Our school has a large number of pupils with Asian backgrounds so India was chosen as our first destination. Studying India enthused pupils and the work was supported by music and food, which many of the children brought from home. Teaching in ways that reflect the ethnicity of the school is an easy way of engaging pupils and creating links with the community.

While travelling through Africa we felt it was important to address sensitive issues such as colonialism and racial conflict, as well as the more common geographical themes of poverty and development.

As a lesson starter and an introduction to apartheid, teachers openly discriminated against pupils whose names did not begin with A. The favoured pupils were given chairs while the others were kept separate, made to sit on the floor and treated unfairly. This really appealed to the pupils'

sense of right and wrong. We followed this up by studying the story of Sandra Laing (a black baby born to white parents in South Africa in 1955), which was presented to the pupils as a magazine article. They responded with a letter to the editor expressing their feelings about apartheid.

Prizes were given for the star letter. While in South Africa we linked traditional work on development to the more contemporary topic of Aids, including its incidence in the UK. Travel through Zimbabwe allowed us to highlight conflict. Although these issues can be controversial, if handled carefully they stimulate interest and make geography more relevant.

Denise Freeman and Simon Miller, geography teachers, Beal High School, Ilford, London borough of Redbridge

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