Oregon teachers visit Botswana

Portland State geography professor Teresa Bulman will co-facilitate a month-long venture to Botswana with K-12 teachers in an effort to increase the amount of geography studied in the classroom.

The trip is part of the Oregon Geographic Alliance, a program based and headquartered in the PSU geography department that works to improve and increase geography education. The alliance sustains itself on funds from the National Geographic Society, Portland State University, and corporate and individual donors.

“The mission is to help K-12 teachers to incorporate geography into the classroom,” said Carolyn Perry, OGA executive manager.

“The OGA is the predominant entity engaged in improving geographic education in the K-12 system in Oregon, and we do that by reaching teachers,” said Bulman. “If you reach teachers you will reach the students.”

The OGA will send a total of 12 Oregon schoolteachers to Botswana with Bulman starting June 23 and lasting an entire month. The Botswana trip is for advanced teachers who have already taken an introductory institute class, offered during the summer for all Oregon teachers who wish to improve their geographical skills.

“The key thing in our program is that we’re working with the School of Education at the University of Botswana,” Bulman said, “and they are setting up school visits throughout the country so that our teachers will go and visit their counterparts.”

Perry said that aside from learning how to better educate students on geography, the teachers will visit a diamond mine, spend two or three days on a game reserve and travel some of the country’s rivers on the riverboats. The teachers will also meet with representatives from Botswana’s ministries of mining, agriculture and environment, researchers from the University of Botswana and the Henry Oppenheimer Research Center in the Okavango Delta and the D’Kar cultural trust.

Upon their return, the teachers will help produce a “geography in education” supplement for The Oregonian. They will also participate in programs to share their knowledge throughout the state.

“That’ll be one more tool they have for teaching, one more experience they have of teaching geography,” Perry said. “So if they’re teaching, maybe, units on health, they will have first-hand experience with the AIDS situation in Africa.”

Previous OGA projects have included work with institutes in Nepal and Wales, and future projects include the creation of an elementary-school-level atlas of Oregon history and geography. The Botswana institute is primarily funded by a $65,000 Fulbright-Hays Group Project Abroad grant.

“It is a great benefit to our department to have an association with OGA,” said Martha Works, chair of PSU’s geography department. “We have masters students interested in geographic education, we get to meet and work with teachers from around the state, and we get students actually beginning college with training in and understanding of geographic concepts.”

Botswana is 70 percent desert and home to the world’s largest inland delta, the Okavango Delta. Its population is 1,640,115 and its official languages are English and Setswana, according to the CIA.