Discovering Africa through Internet-Based Geographic Information Systems: A Pan-African Summit Simulation

By Milson, Andrew J.; Gilbert, Kathleen M. et al. | Social Education, April 2007 | Go to article overview

Discovering Africa through Internet-Based Geographic Information Systems: A Pan-African Summit Simulation


Milson, Andrew J., Gilbert, Kathleen M., Earle, Brian D., Social Education


The people of Africa continue to experience significant turmoil: genocide in Sudan; violence against children in Congo; piracy off the coast of Somalia; and disease, hunger, debt, conflict, and corruption throughout much of the continent. The challenges facing post-colonial Africa have been the basis for numerous international relief efforts for decades. The Organization of African Unity (OAU) was created in an early effort to develop Africa as countries gained independence. Formed in 1963, the OAU became known as the "Dictator's Club" because, despite the rhetoric of unity, the African leaders upheld a non-interventionist policy that became a justification for ignoring the political and human rights abuses of neighboring states.

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In 2002, the OAU was officially replaced by the African Union (AU). The goals of the AU include promoting democracy, human rights, and development across the African continent. The AU is composed of a set of organs, including a Pan-African Parliament and a Court of Justice. The parliament and common court are intended to provide a stronger voice for the people of Africa as the nations attempt to create a Pan-African economy and hold leaders accountable for human rights abuses. Since its founding, the AU has held numerous summits and conferences to focus attention on the many critical issues facing the continent. (1)

A Discovery Learning Framework

In the United States, we get very little news about Africa, and what news we do get is about war or famine, with little historical information or context. In order to give our approximately 100, ninth-grade students (in five World Geography classes) a more profound knowledge of this vast continent, we developed and implemented a project to simulate a Pan-African Summit (See page 145). (2) One primary goal for this project was to have students essentially discover Africa on their own by examining the human and physical conditions of various regions of the continent and then drawing tentative conclusions about the nature of the problems afflicting African countries. We decided to use discovery learning as a guiding framework for this project. Jerome Bruner, an early advocate of discovery learning, explained the principles of the approach in his 1960 book, The Process of Education. (3)

   Mastery of the fundamental ideas
   of a field involves not only the
   grasping of general principles,
   but also the development of an
   attitude toward learning and
   inquiry, toward guessing and
   hunches, toward the possibility
   of solving problems on one's
   own.... To instill such attitudes
   by teaching requires something
   more than the mere presentation
   of fundamental ideas ... it
   would seem that an important
   ingredient is a sense of excitement
   about discovery-discovery
   of regularities of previously
   unrecognized relations and
   similarities between ideas, with a
   resulting sense of self-confidence
   in one's abilities. (p.20)

Through discovery learning, students use inductive reasoning to sort through examples and details in order to develop an understanding of general principles. For example, instead of telling students that many economic indicators tend to be interrelated, we wanted students to discover these connections on their own. They might note, for example, that the countries with low per capita GDP also tend to have high infant mortality rates, low life expectancies, and high incidence of environmental, educational, and health related problems. And as they explore the relationships between humans and their physical environment, students begin to recognize the complexity and interrelatedness of the problems facing African countries. Through the discovery learning approach, we hoped that students would come to realize that the sources of poverty, hunger, disease, and conflict are numerous, interrelated, and not easily remedied.

Examining Geographic Information

Prior to beginning this project, the students in our World Geography classes had completed a unit on Europe. …

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