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Toronto school trustee calls for a diversity of maps in classrooms

It was recently announced that Boston schools will be getting new maps. One Toronto school trustee, himself a former elementary school teacher, wants the schools in his district to up their map game too. Parthi Kandavel explains why multiple maps will make education better.
The Mercator map (left) and the Gall-Peters show two different versions of the world. (RTimages/Shutterstock and Oxford Cartographers)
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There's more than one way to see the world. Even if you limit yourself to maps. 

The Boston school board recently made news with a decision to add a Gall-Peters map to every classroom, to compliment the traditional Mercator map — which is thought to be biased towards the Northern Hemisphere. 

Trustee and former school teacher Parthi Kandavel, shown in his classroom in 2014, wants board staff to look into broadening the selection of world maps students are able to access. (Parthi Kandavel)

A Toronto school trustee is now calling for a similar change in his city: "What I'm looking to do is...bring in supplementary maps to support the dominant map [the Mercator]...with maps that provide different perspectives on the world, and literally different world views," says Parthi Kandavel.

The different perspectives can be useful for students of all ages, even in the 21st century, he says.

For previous generations the world over, life was presented in a very linear, ideological way. I think now, with the exposure of other maps ... you have the ability now to take that type of thinking, and have kids apply it to a variety of circumstances.- Parthi Kandavel , Toronto District School Board trustee 

"I think it speaks to the wide variety of influences kids are under these days, you know, especially with the Internet. And having that ability to understand perspective is key," Kandavel says.

Different Maps

Because maps are 2D representations of a 3D world, it is impossible to create an entirely accurate map. The Mercator gets the shape of the continents right, but distorts the proportions. The Gall-Peters gets the proportions right, but distorts the shape. Other so-called "compromise" map projections, like the Robinson and Winkel tripel, try to solve all problems at once. 

"For previous generations the world over, life was presented in a very linear, ideological way. I think now, with the exposure of other maps ... you have the ability now to take that type of thinking, and have kids apply it to a variety of circumstances: whether it's understanding government and politics, looking at human life through a sociological lens, culture ... or even something as cold and hard as mathematics and engineering — having to build bridges in a variety of ways.

"I think having that ability to understand perspective and approaches is applicable in a variety of ways."

Kandavel says teaching the different perspectives offered by using different maps aligns with the current education philosophy around critical thinking and inquiry-based learning.  

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