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Saturday 29 November 2014
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Maps to learn General Knowledge

Effortless Learning

Kamala Balachandran explains how maps can be used as handy tools to build General Knowledge

This happy ritual takes place in every home at the end of an academic year.  After promotion to the next higher class is confirmed, children excitedly empty out the cupboards, bags and desks, bundle up the old books and notebooks and put them away for disposal by weight.

The General Knowledge books alone are retained, in the belief that they could come in use, sometime in the future. This is a valid forethought as reading up middle and high school Social Science and GK books is recommended not just for quiz contestants but even for those preparing for the UPSC and other competitive exams!


It goes without saying, that students must ideally carry forward the knowledge acquired, in their heads, and not have them in the saved books. But it is a fact that most children (and adults!) cannot retain all the dry, disconnected, factual information that the GK books contain. Children can neither relate to them nor do they see any ‘use’ in knowing it all.

Students may think that GK is not an ‘important’ subject. But, in the adult world, an educated person is expected to have at least a moderate knowledge of the world around.  In a borderless world, to be successful in any field, one must know where the various places are and how its people live. One must also be aware of the major happenings in other places, both in the past and in the present. Since GK books are not very effective tools in providing this learning, we need to look at other ways by which children may assimilate general information about the global environment.

Maps are the time tested tool for building general knowledge. A globe, large, poster sized maps of India and the world, a little enthusiasm and ingenuity on the part of the adults is all that is required to make GK learning at home a habit. The best thing about this tool is that children get hooked on to this habit from a very young age and yet, no up-gradation of the maps is required:  the same ones can remain as permanent fixtures on the wall, for many years to come!

It is amazing how much general knowledge can be built around maps and how often the family would be referring to them in the course of a single day!

There is a learning opportunity to be found even in the most common situations. The parent has an upcoming official tour. And that is an opening for the child to look up the map and locate the place. It is a good time to give the child some information about the city/country, the distance from home, the route taken to reach the place, etc.

Distant places, where close relatives or friends lived, would no longer be just names. Once the child has located them in the map, all information connected to the place would become more meaningful to the child.

Planning a family holiday? Make it a point to include the child in the discussions (even if, for realistic reasons, you would be negating most of their suggestions!) Sit by the map and initiate the discussion. Where could we go? How do we get there? What are the attractions in the place? What would be the costs? How many days do we need to be away? Are there any other spots that we could visit en route? What would the weather be like? Would we need special sporting gear or dress? Every bit of information gathered in the process is so relevant that the child would retain them for life.

Looking up the location on the map also makes news connected to the place more real. Adults should make it a habit to tell children some important/interesting news of the day and use the map to bring it in perspective. For instance, if you were to tell the child about Osama Bin Laden being shot dead, you could show Abbottabad and New York in the map and speak about the 9/11 happening. Discuss the news of the first anniversary of the Fukushima tragedy, and encourage the child to look up its location in the map, know more about earthquake and tsunami and if it is age appropriate, extend the discussion to the Koodankulam (where is it in the map?) controversy. With the habit well set, don’t be surprised if your little one wants to see in the map, Mirpur (and Dhaka) where Sachin hit his hundredth, hundred!  

Language and History lessons are best learnt if the student has a clear grasp of the location of the scenes of action. The subject matter then ceases to be abstract and this helps in understanding and remembering them better.

One may wonder if in the digital age, looking up printed maps is not an outdated idea. True. There is indeed a huge body of knowledge out there that can be accessed by clicking buttons. But the map on the wall scores because it does not require the student to make a deliberate effort to get the bit of information. He/she picks it up just in passing.  

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