“You wouldn’t care about books if you couldn’t read them, so why would you care about plant and animal species if you couldn’t understand them?”
— Dr. Dan Janzen

Although the above quote by biologist Dr. Janzen was focused on biology, he raises an interesting thought: How can we care about or understand something that we know very little about? 

If we apply this question to geography, then not having geo-literacy would mean that we are not able to fully care about or understand this world that we live in. How can we comprehend what is in it, how things are connected, or our place in it.

By not having geo-literacy, we cannot understand why a drought in Thailand will affect rice prices in Singapore, what the war in the Middle East has to do with oil prices in the US, or why China and Japan are constantly squabbling over a group of tiny islands. 

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What is geo-literacy?

The National Geographic Society defines geographic literacy as the basic understanding of how our world works that all members of modern society require. More specifically, it means being equipped to better understand the interconnectedness of this world and how our decisions on a daily basis can affect others. It doesn't only mean the decisions of prime ministers and presidents, but our decisions - like what food to eat and the things we buy. 

So, why do we need geo-literacy?

The purpose of geo-literacy is to empower people to make informed decisions in their everyday lives. This means being fully aware of what decisions we are making and what the effects of our decisions will be. As Singaporeans living in a first-world country, we make decisions daily that are more far-reaching than we realise. We are affecting more people than we know.

Our individual decision may appear small and insignificant, but if you multiply this by a few million people, the impact can be enormous. For example, you decide to buy a top from Forever 21 at a super great price of $9. But did you ever think about how they are able to make and sell their clothes so cheaply? Forever 21 sources its cotton from Uzbekistan factories, where millions of children are removed from schools by the government of Uzbekistan and forced to pick cotton during the harvest season. 

By choosing to boycott Forever 21 by shopping at H&M and Bershka instead, your individual decision may not seem like much, but multiply it by thousands of other students like yourself and it can make a huge impact.

This also means learning about geography.

Simply put, we have an obligation to be well-informed about our shrinking planet earth. Thanks to modern advances in technology, as well as rapid economic development, the world is becoming smaller and more interconnected - a phenomenon known as globalization.

This makes geo-literacy more important now than ever, and by understanding geography, we unlock the key to understanding interconnectedness in this world. All around the world, countries are beginning to understand the importance of geo-literacy and of having proper geography curriculum in their education system. We are lucky to have sound geographic education being taught in all Singapore schools. 

But ultimately, I guess it's up to us to take some initiative to get out there and explore. We live in an age where limitless knowledge is at our fingertips: we can walk virtually on the moon with Google Moon, watch documentaries on YouTube, and Google any question we have to have it answered in microseconds. Once we make the effort, the unknown can then become known.

And the known can therefore become real.