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Geography, as a discipline, has been historically central to many path-breaking studies of the world's phenomena. Yet many people ignore it considering it a 'non-essential' subject that cannot lead to a meaningful career. Geography connects us with the world - cultures, histories, languages, mathematics, sciences, etc. Children take to this subject naturally. However, regular school curricula start it via ill-conceived and ill-designed textbooks that dampen the eagerness and wonder with which it pupils can uncover the world.

After several years of working with children across diverse socio-economic strata, Relief Foundation has found that early introduction of Geography education triggers critical thinking. It helps children to establish a strong bond between the individual and the world as a whole. This bonding occurs and develops spanning a continuum of geographical scales ranging from the personal, the local, regional, and all the way to the global. Indeed, children need to understand that they are born geographers. Once they recognize this innateness, they are able to marvel at the world and engage with it in joyous and life-affirming ways.

Dr. Montessori gave special focus and place to Geography in the first two planes of development of a child -- 0 to 6 years (first plane), and 7 to 12 years (second plane) -- because young children know no boundaries and they are ready to receive the world. Her philosophy greatly emphasized the need to look at the entire world and the species in it as one whole community rather than divide them by borders. It is this belief that connects Relief Foundation strongly with Geography Education.

Rather than reinventing the wheel, Relief Foundation has always tried to identify experts in various fields and partnered with them to develop areas of learning in faster and more integrated ways. The Institute of Geographical Studies (TIGS) is the organization with which we have been collaborating since 2012 to craft a geography education program at Relief Foundation.

Dr. Chandra Shekhar Balachandran founded TIGS. He has been taking geography education directly to children since 2000. Relief Foundation formalized the partnership in December 2014 to offer geography education to children, teachers, and parents in its various education centres. Under this partnership, TIGS and Relief Foundation started the GeoVidyaa Geography Centre - Chennai (GVGC-Chennai), a hub for innovative geography education.

TIGS focuses on developing and nurturing critical knowledge, critical understanding, and critical skills in geography education. This approach neatly aligns with the philosophy and approach of Relief Foundation. Thus, our partnership is organic. GVGC-Chennai offers various real-time activities for students and, indeed, anyone interested in geography. Other than workshops, through this centre we also offer interactive sessions, mini research opportunities (film screenings, illustrated talks, etc.) Some of the existing programmes that are offered through GVGC are:

Workshops - workshops help participants discover important concepts of geography through interactive work. The topics of the workshops are very diverse. A sample list of the workshop topics is available at here

Documentary film screenings at GVGC-Chennai, as with all other GVGCs, we believe in critical viewing of documentaries. Participants discuss the topic and its context and watch the film together with periodic pauses to discuss learnings up to that point, and end with a summative discussion of the film and the topic. Field trips - these are being planned for the near future where participants will learn to understand geography through actually being at locations where phenomena can be seen.

Geography Over Distance - Using the internet to deliver interactive geography education to school-age children. The pilot project was started in September 2015 and is progressing well. We are learning new things in using the digital medium to promote and foster geography education. Our two pioneering students are 13-14 years old, live in Chennai, and are being home-schooled. One of them has begun a research project in an area of Chennai and is scheduled to present his findings in a paper at the much-awaited International Geography Youth Summit in September 2016, to be held in Bengaluru.

Parents' outreach - Many parents are, understandably, concerned about the kinds of career prospects that children may have if they pursue geography as a field of study. Many parents, in fact, are unaware of what geography is, and how empowering a sound geography education can be. This effort has been getting parents involved in their children's education in different ways. Apart from separate interactions with parents, they have also been attending several other GVGC-Chennai activities along with their children. Learning together has fun in it, yet is intense enough to make family conversations live and purposeful. This is one of the most enriching experiences for all of us.

To know more about this partnership, please visit http://www.tigs.in/