There is often a debate surrounding the age at which children should be taught topics like sex education. Teachers and parents are often divided in opinion – are they just too young? So why are there not debates over when geography students should be exposed to images and video material of major conflicts, global atrocities, the moving stories of refugees, and the real cost of Hurricane Irma?
When I first started teaching, I recall carefully selecting video clips and current affairs for use during lessons. When warnings about graphic material or distressing images were given, my search for lesson content continued as policy needed to be duly followed and I just couldn’t risk upsetting students; I preferred to avoid the inevitable concerns that would later be expressed. As a teacher, I felt like I had greater access to geography-related online resources than students. Even when this was not the case, I often enjoyed being able to search information on the internet for material that my students would struggle to find.
A decade on and both students and teachers are using the internet in a very different way. The true geographers amongst our cohorts of students will ask questions, want to delve deeper and will look to educate their teachers about events around the globe. Through browsing news websites and YouTube, students are quick to find hard-hitting videos and personal accounts of natural disasters and world conflict. Without obvious parental controls, how can we as geography teachers support the safe use of the internet and encourage our students to view age appropriate material when reading around lessons?
In my opinion, students should be exposed to conflict, global atrocities and the devastating effects of natural disasters from a young age. Harrowing personal accounts and the live nature of personal videos, through apps such as Periscope, have generated real interest in our subject. Current affairs are streamed live more than ever before – students seem eager to establish the very latest news on events such as Hurricane Irma. Within 15 minutes of a building collapsing, large swathes of people across the world are able to offer condolences via social media.
As students of today see conflict on screen, they often ask: ‘Why are they fighting? Who are they fighting? Why do they seem angry? What is going to be achieved? Where are they moving to?’ As geographers, we have a role to play in educating students, guiding them to reliable and age appropriate material which accurately covers events as they unfold yet provide a learning opportunity, as opposed to something that is hard-hitting for any viewer.
Nick Dyson is currently Head of Sixth Form at Burgess Hill Girls, and also works as an examiner. He has held a variety of teaching roles during his career, including: Newly Qualified Teacher Coordinator, Head of Geography and Head of Careers. Outside of the classroom, he is also a keen windsurfer.