The great British pizza

2nd April 2004 at 01:00
Indian pupils love England ... but most can't find us on the map. Helen Ward reports

England is a cold land full of pizzas and traffic with a distinct lack of elephants, according to Indian teenagers.

But despite being overwhelmingly enthusiastic, only one in three pupils could find the country on a map, with one child insisting that London was in Greenland.

Stephen Scoffham, principal lecturer at Canterbury Christ Church university college, asked more than 100 well-educated pupils in the southern Indian town of Dindigul what they knew about England. He said: "The most important conclusion is how little the pupils seem to know about the country which has been so closely tied to them historically.

"Perhaps England is not as important as we think."

He suggests that teachers will teach better if they tailor their lessons to pupils' preconceptions about places. His research followed an earlier study into English pupils' geographical knowledge, which found pupils knew little about Africa, South America and southern Asia.

Dr Scoffham's study, which he will launch at the Geographical Association's conference next week, found that although Indian pupils knew little about England, what they did know was accurate. Kenyan children, on the other hand, believed that the English ate frogs and snakes.

In India, there was general agreement that England was a cold, rainy place where woolly clothes were needed.

Most students aged 12 to 17 associated England with fast food, traffic and cities. They also remarked on high buildings, telephone boxes and churches.

The most widely-known English people were the Royal family, David Beckham and Harry Potter - although some boys could name the entire English cricket team.

"Vivid portraits of difference do stick in children's minds. There is a sense of the joy of knowledge, the awe and wonder of the diversity of humanity," said Dr Scoffham.

Dr Scoffham found that Indian pupils were very positive about England. The "lingering guilt" which English people feel about the colonial past, he said, was not an issue among Indian teenagers.

He said: "In conversations pupils declared, often with great vehemence, that England is a beautiful country and a super place. Children in the UK often hold negative stereotypes about India and focus on poverty, disease and disasters.

"Before they start a piece of work, teachers should ask pupils about their perceptions of a place. If teachers know their pupils' perceptions, it will help them make learning more meaningful."

The Geographical Association conference is in Canterbury from April 5 to 7.

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