Monday, October 21, 2013

Why should students learn history and geography in school?

Often parents ask me 'Why should children learn history and geography?'. Especially, why are our students learning about the stories of Aurangzeb and Humayun? or about Egyptian civilisation? Or why are students learning about the different continents ? How were they formed? What do we learn from the wars that have happened in the past? Even students feel that getting this knowledge is not useful. They study history and geography at the last moment only to get passing grade. 

The real question is 'Why should students learn history and geography in school'?

Two major reasons to learn History and Geography in school

1. One, is to sustain the motivation of your child in the school. 

Initially, a child may pursue an activity for its own sake.  He/She may start doing an activity – such as playing guitar, or solving science problems, or playing cricket – just because it is exciting. But, after a while, she loses interest in it and stop doing it. 

To sustain motivation for a long time, some students have to find 'meaning' in learning that activity. These children are not motivated just by learning subjects like Algebra or Science.  Marks alone do not excite them. They get bored by solving problems in algebra, mathematics or English, because their mind keeps on raising a question 'Why am i learning this subject? What is the purpose of learning this?" 

I never liked History subject in school. That was until i was in VIIth. In VIIth, i got a new teacher. When i fared poorly in History, he surprised me by asking me ' You are so good in History. Why do you score poorly when you know so much in History?' When he saw my wide mouth look, he replied ' You always answer my questions such as who invented Steam Engine and how. That is History'. He completely reframed the meaning of History to me. He increased my interest in science by making me gain more information of how those scientific discoveries happen,  who makes them, how they happen by chance. I discovered Edison and his countless experiments. I found the bigger motivation to learn science. From then onwards, I did not study science to get more marks. I studied science because it was going to help me solve 'bigger problems' of mankind. 

2. Second, is to ensure that the future work-life is not stuck up due to lack of motivation.

In a school, our children require motivation to learn. In the work-life, we require motivation to do our work. But to sustain motivation , we need to find 'meaning' in that activity. Initially, money may help us get motivated to do our job. But we cannot do our jobs only for money after a while. We need to find meaning in our job. How do we find meaning in an activity? To find meaning in an activity, we need practice

In history, we get the practice of finding meaning in the events and situations that made history. Such as the small event of Salt Satyagraha in the India's Independence. Or knowing the evolution of a steam engine, through History, we understand the importance of learning the function of car engine. Geography enables us to connect with the dense interconnection of different elements of life, be it earth, air, water, animal life and forests. And Literature – novels, biographies, and other artifacts - is the source of knowing about how the leaders and big geniuses perceived their lives, what they considered as meaningful in life. 

Why do we need to learn these subjects in school? If we start learning these subjects in school, we tend to store them in memory. According to the fundamental rule of learning, the more 'items of a subject' we store in memory, the more easier it is to learn new things on the same subject. If for instance, you were initiated in Geography in school, you will understand the topic of global warming when you read it in newspaper. You will understand the impact of pollution on the air. With more reading, you will be able to appreciate the dynamics of pollution, and find a way by which you can contribute to the 'cleaner climate'. Through history and geography, we understand how a 'small' contribution in a field from our side can make a 'big' impact in the world outside. 

On the other hand, when we are not exposed to History and geography in our school, we get stuck up in our work-life like Manisha, Digvijay or Ramesh, because they are unable to find their motivation of doing the job. One cannot learn this skill easily at a later age. One must be building on this skill from early age.    

However, individuals who get this practice of finding meaning, tend to find their long term motivations in life more easily. This is how individuals like Larry Page of Google can make a bigger impact on society. Or help individuals like Nandan Nilekani find satisfaction in helping government by using their professional expertise. Or help rich entrepreneurs like Wipro's Premji to spend money in education.   


As you would have guessed by now, History and Geography help you develop your Conative traits, the third C that helps you unleash your talent. If you have not read the 3Cs of talent, read this. Conative traits are the traits that help you fire your torch, that motivate you in a sustained manner. Doing the normal routine of your life, be it work, play, movies, friends, can be made more happy and satisfying if you develop your conative traits. And the earlier you develop them, the better it is for you. Because if you do not develop them early, you will find it difficult to live your daily life. You will never know where and how you have lost the fire ! So if your child is in school, it is time to develop his/her conative traits by introducing him to History and Geography early in life.