By: / The Guardian

Photo: BBC

The television presenter Michael Palin has praised the study of geography as a force for broadening the mind as fresh figures show a spike in take-up for the subject at schools in England.

The man behind travel shows including Around the World in 80 Days, Pole to Pole and Full Circle says studying geography is key to understanding the world and “helping us to realise that we all share the same planet”.

Palin’s comments come as A-level and GCSE geography entries in England are on the rise. GCSE entries increased by 36% and A-level entries by 21% between 2012 and 2017.

In an interview with the Press Association, Palin said geography was a vital subject in the modern world, broadening minds and encouraging an understanding of different countries and cultures.

The world is much more accessible, and I think it is hugely important that we understand the world and why countries are where they are, why they live how they do, what the climate is, what they produce,” he said.

“Geography is no longer just something which you learn from a book and a map and that’s it. It’s very much now a collaborative thing.

“The world is out there, you can go and see for yourself, very often now for very small amounts of money, what the world looks like, and I think that’s a great opportunity.

“I think it broadens the mind. That’s one obvious thing, but also I think it just helps us to understand how other countries are the way they are, and this is really very important in just helping us to realise that we all share the same planet and we should know more about what makes us different as well as what makes us similar.”

The increase in geography take-up is likely to have been fuelled by the introduction of the English baccalaureate, a government measure that recognises teenagers who study English, maths, science, history or geography and a language at GCSE.

Palin said field trips were very important, and that they were what had first got him interested in the subject.

“I looked at books, I looked at maps, I looked at atlases, I enjoyed that, but the thing that inspired me most of all was being taken from the school into the local area to look at nature,” he said. “To look at the way the land looked, to understand the geography, to walk up little hills and streams and see how the ecological system worked, look at the environment.”

Getting outdoors was “where the magic appeal of geography lies,” he said. “It’s being out there, it’s being able to see and touch and feel what the land is like”.

The writer, broadcaster and former Monty Python star suggested that the rise in the subject’s popularity may be down in part to modern technology, which allows people to talk to others “in Argentina, or Sri Lanka, or Norway all in the same morning”.


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