New atlases break the rules of convention

From left, are Dr Kevin Winter; Claire Biesman-Simons of The Bookery and Steve Cilliers, managing director of Oxford University Press Southern Africa, at the launch of the thematic atlases.

UCT lecturer Dr Kevin Winter, one of the leading contributors to a new range of atlases published by Oxford University Press Southern Africa, believes integration between educational disciplines is key to the future of learning in the country.

Dr Winter, of the university’s environmental and geographical science department, has been a contributor to the publishing house since 1995, and was the keynote speaker at the launch of the Oxford South African Thematic Atlas for Grades 7-9 and Oxford South African Themtaic Atlas for Grades 10-12 at N1 City last week.

The atlases were designed in accordance with the findings of a 2015 Oxford University Press study, which established a greater need for wall maps, and a broader focus on map skills development for both teachers and pupils.

According to Steve Cilliers, managing director of Oxford University Press Southern Africa, teachers had also expressed concern about pupils’ difficulty in interpreting colour-coded areas which represent different heights on physical maps.

“Conventional physical maps make use of the colour green for low-lying areas. These colour codes are not intuitive and learners often interpret it for forests. The Oxford Thematic Atlas series’s approach to cartography makes use of 3D effects to indicate different heights to give a sense of the topography at a glance,” he said.

“This innovative approach aims to reduce confusion and increase learners’ understanding of topography and the physical characteristics of an area.”

The development team was headed by Oxford University Press Social Sciences publisher Elaine Williams and included an experienced cartographic scientist, university curriculum writers, CAPS (Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements)curriculum writers, exam moderators and geography teachers from across the country.

In his address, Dr Winter said there was both “good and bad news” about the state of geography in South Africa.

“If you look at the numbers, geography is the fourth most popular subject at school today. In the period 2011 to 2015, we have seen 10 percent more pupils enrolling for geography than in previous years, which is very encouraging. It shows that learners are enjoying the applied nature of the subject,” he said. “However, there is also another message to the numbers we see. Unfortunately, there are not many learners managing to obtain a pass rate of 80 percent or more. We all know that there there are a lot of systemic problems with our education system, but this situation is worrying.”

This was precisely why a different approach was needed, he said.

Dr Winter said when he first contributed to Oxford publications in 1995, he had been something of a “maverick” in that he had insisted more attention was paid to interpreting South Africa’s social landscape.

“For the time our textbooks were quite radical, in that they were less text-heavy. In fact, one critic even asked us how would they get learners to underline text as a result of what we had done,” he quipped.

“So for me, I’ve always hankered after textbooks that do something different, and I think with the thematic atlases we have done that. They are beautiful publications. We are able to do so much more with eye-catching layout now, meaning that the texts are no longer static, which is so important for teaching purposes.”

Dr Winter added that teaching the idea of integration was “key to the world we live in”.

“In my field (of science and geography), I have learnt a lot about a world without people. Now the time has come to integrate people into that world. Readers of the atlases will note that we include information about the people and cultures who live in specific areas, as well as references to important geographical themes (population growth, food security and climate change).

“We wanted people to shine in these publications, to make it about people and how they relate to the landscape.”

As part of the launch, Mr Cilliers donated several atlases to The Bookery, a depot where books suitable for either primary or secondary school pupils can be donated.