GIS in education

By Valrie Grant, Managing Director,

GeoTechVision

Valerie Grant
Valerie Grant

Previous articles would have dealt with GIS in various aspect of economic development. This article addresses GIS in education. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is playing an increasingly important role in education. This article will address perspectives on:

  • GIS in the administration of education
  • GIS as a tool in education delivery
  • GIS in educations as a career choice

GIS in the administration of education

From an administrative perspective, GIS plays a similar role as in other areas of the economy. For example, GIS can be used to determine where to locate schools with respect to communities, transportation routes or centres, population demography; and where schools already exist, it can be used in a rationalization process taking into account factors such as student loads, student to teacher ratio, communities demography and other factors. The complex nature of these analysis is well suited for GIS where location, distance and transportation are critical parameters.

Often times a planning model can be developed from analysis of these parameters/factors which can then be used to drive education planning, policies and the allocation of scarce resources. Increasingly Caribbean governments are turning to GIS for these purposes. Already projects of this nature have been undertaken or is underway in Jamaica, Belize and Barbados.

GIS as a tool in education delivery

Geographical Infor-mation Systems technology is being used in some Caribbean territories to improve the quality of education, promote spatial awareness and contribute to national development. GIS technology offers the opportunity for many interdisciplinary projects. In some countries a curriculum infusion guide has been prepared and in other instances is being contemplated as there is the recognition that there are many different aspects of social studies, science, math, language arts and other curriculum that GIS can help students explore. If we should look at social studies GIS can help students to explore demographic information; visualization of historical events; look at trends and patterns and explore temporal changes. In the Natural Science GIS is useful in helping students to look at natural phenomena such as flooding, earthquakes and volcano; explore how humans are impacting our environment and so much more.

In Language Arts GIS can be used to explore the location of a book plot, follow the author on his journey from one place to another. Images of such locations currently or historically can be viewed and compared using Google Maps. There are so many other ways that GIS can be infused into various subject areas. The point though, is that GIS can be used to promote critical and analytical thinking skills.

With GIS, students of all ages can explore and understand their environment. Guyana can be correctly described as a geographers’ paradise. This country is replete with rivers, broad areas of grassland, coastal plains, white sand belts and interior highlands. Geography students can enjoy using GIS and associated technologies to map these amazing features and thus increase their interest in Guyana and its natural beauty as well as in Geography which is now being considered a dying discipline. GIS brings Geography to life and helps students and educators engage in studies that promote critical thinking and integrated learning.

GIS can improve the problem solving with social issues where students can apply what they are learning. A group of students for example, may decide to map all derelict buildings in Georgetown and analyses how this may contribute to the issue of crime. Yet another group may decide to map all the fast food restaurants in the Georgetown area and analyze if litter bins are properly positioned within an easy walk of major fast food restaurants and other sites or where people traverse. These same students may also wish to contribute to environmentally important projects like helping to map the mangroves. In these ways they can act in socially responsible ways to impact their communities and by extension their country, region and world.

GIS as a career choice

With GeoServices being a trillion-dollar industry, students will be acquiring valuable skills that can be transferred into the twenty-first century workforce, whether they are involved in science, government, or business. In the Caribbean there is a shortage of GIS professionals and Guyana is no different. Exposing students to GIS at the secondary level at the time when they are contemplating what subjects to concentrate on is ideal. This will build awareness of the discipline and emphasize the importance of the field. The result, in a few years there will be a cadre of knowledge workers with the necessary spatial skills who can facilitate the provision of GIS and related services locally.

GIS Day is held annually during Geography awareness week and was celebrated this year on November 18. It is also an excellent way to expose students to GIS. GIS Day was celebrated in Guyana at the University of Guyana in collaboration with various government agencies and other organizations. This marked the third consecutive year that GIS Day has been celebrated in Guyana. GIS Day events are geared at showcasing the uses and benefits of GIS and building and nurturing the GIS Community. Each year these events are held in many countries across the Caribbean and indeed the Globe.

Demonstrating corporate citizenship, GeoTechVision has been hosting GIS camp events in various Caribbean countries. Such events have also been hosted in Guyana. One of the goals of the camp is to build awareness about this GIS technology and its applications in the younger generations. This we hope will build human capacity and foster regional development. The two-week programme usually consist of GIS and GPS training, tours of government agencies that use GIS and associated technologies, presentations from local and international NGOs who are actively using the science to assist their projects, followed by a simple field data collection exercise from which participants will present a map of the collected information.

To date, the comments from the participants of the GIS camps have always been positive. Many of the students often show their gratitude and how they value the two weeks by volunteering to assist with future camps.

Without a doubt, GIS must be included as a discipline in education across the region. From my exchanges with the Ministry of Education, all indication points to a recognition that there is room to do work in this area of the education curriculum. Exciting times are ahead as the ministries of education across the region and the regional examination body come to the recognition that GIS is critical to sustainable economic development. The time is therefore right for GIS to be included as a separate discipline in the schools’ curriculum.

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