Geographers from across the globe met in St. John's this week to discuss the future of geographic education in Canada after alarm bells went off when some Memorial University students couldn't locate the Atlantic Ocean on a map.

James Boxall, a geography professor at Dalhousie University, said he wasn't exactly shocked when he saw a previous CBC report in which university students struggled to locate basic things.

"I actually do [a quiz] with my first-year students every year, I just haven't publicized it, and it's the same results," Boxall said.


James Boxall, a geography professor at Dalhousie University, says it's not uncommon for students not to know basic geography. (CBC)

"I think the one that kind of got me was that 70 per cent of my students didn't know where Afghanistan was, and that bothered me in one sense because I had friends that were actually in Afghanistan with the Canadian Forces, I thought that wasn't quite right but I wasn't shocked."

Boxall said people not having basic geographic knowledge indicates a much larger problem.

"Yes, people have to know some basics, and it's really a way to measure something very fundamental, but the bigger issue was what's the state of geographic education as we move forward and what's real geographic education, which goes beyond those simple tests — although those are an alarm bell," he said.

Karl Donert, president of the European Association of Geographers, is in the city for the conference and said he is hoping to help Canadian geographers come up with a plan for the future of their education.

"Establishing a very clear vision of where Canadian geography wants to go I think is critical, and then to develop some timeline and some key projects is very important," Donert said.

"The big issue that we have is getting funding to enable those projects to take place, which means that decision makers need to understand that this is really important."

Donert said a lack of basic geographic knowledge may indicate that people aren't making the connections when they are younger.

"I think young people today are dealing with a lot of information, and positioning that information is quite challenging. That is to say that I think perhaps the connections between where things are are not really being dealt with, in a way," he said.

"It's like learning a language — you learn a vocabulary, but if you don't know how to use it then it becomes very abstract."

The group is hoping to get key solutions established by next week, and, in the fall, to take those propositions to Ottawa to get the legislature on board.