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New ICA poster series on Maps and Sustainable Development Goals

Exchanging ideas about the Barbara Petchenik Competition

By Jesús Reyes Nunez, Chair of the ICA Commission on Cartography and Children


After celebrating the 20th anniversary of the competition (1993–2013), ICA considers that this is the opportunity to ask all the interested people, colleagues, teachers, etc about their ideas on how they consider that the competition could be improved in the next editions.  We wait for any kind of opinions, proposals, questions and critics related to the competition, its organization, rules, participation, etc.

Our aim is to collect all the opinions during the next two months (June and July) to include them in a preliminary document for discussion, which first version could be presented in the meeting of the ICA Commission on Cartography and Children to be held in Rio de Janeiro during ICC 2015.

As a kind of “keynote” to start this exchange of opinions on the Barbara Petchenik International Competition, I write some thoughts that I have in relation with the development of the competition. These are my personal opinions to begin the survey; any of the colleagues interested to participate can also send their own questions or themes, explaining shortly their ideas and proposals. The opinions can be sent by e-mail, using our Facebook profile or through the comment section in this article on the ICA website, all opinions are considered public and will be used to create a document on this topic.

We expect the participation not only of commission members, but also of any colleague interested in the future development of the competition… so all of you are invited to participate in this exchange of opinions!

Thoughts and questions related to the Barbara Petchenik Competition

There is no discussion about the role played by the competition to popularize maps between the new generations and to involve more directly Geography (and other) teachers from all over the world into this activity.

I began to work in the organization of the national competitions from 1999, and to be directly involved in the activities related to the International Judging Commissions in the international competitions from 2005. The age groups are a good starting point to select the winner maps, but we cannot forget that in some cases the solutions used by children to draw their maps “overlap” the age limits.

I personally followed three criteria that can be considered common for the four age groups when we are selecting the winner drawings:

  • Cartographic quality of the map – When considering this aspect, I think very important the originality of the map, namely the map was made and not only copied by the child. In the digital era the use of a digital base map is also accepted (it is also included in the rules of the competition and we also offer graticules in pdf format on the website of our commission to be used by children in their works). In this case the originality is also important (e.g. how they draw the outlines of the continents on the graticule), but if they use a digital base map (with previously drawn continents), then we should consider of significant importance how the theme of the competition is represented on the map.
  • The graphic solutions used to “support” or to complete the map (however relatively often a jury member can find that the graphic solution is more notable on the work that the map itself)
  • and the fidelity to the message (theme) of the competition.

In general, these criteria agree to the original criteria included in the rules for the competition: a recognizable message (fidelity to the message), cartographic content (cartographic quality) and quality of execution (graphic solution). Cartographic factors are also explained in the more detailed description of these three main criteria (page 2 of the rules).

Based on my experiences organizing the Hungarian Competition I penned some basic ideas to consider first when I was asked to be Chair-person of the International Jury in 2005 and 2007 and later when I was involved in the organization of the international competition, suggesting Jury members to make some fine differences within each age group:

In the first age group (now first and second age groups, children younger than 8 years) I considered the originality of the “map” and the imaginative graphic design two of the most important factors when selecting a drawing. For me, originality means e.g. that the child drew a “map” from memory, e.g. trying to reproduce other map saw by him in a book or atlas or simply drawing his immediate environment (I know that the competition focuses on world maps, but my personal opinion is that at this age we can make exceptions if a small child prefers to draw the “real world” known by him instead of copying a world map from an atlas).  Of course, at this age we cannot expect from children that they create a cartographic masterpiece, in this age group the competition is a kind of inspiration, motivation to become interested on maps. These are typically two age groups in which is really valid the idea that the competition is organized to initiate or encourage their interest towards the maps. The map drew by a child of this age can be very inaccurate, the outline of the continents (or his neighborhood or natural environment) can be very unsafe or uncertain, in the case of a world map the result might even not have any similarity to the real layout of the continents (they might be also totally imaginary lands), but I do not consider this fact a notable mistake or problem at this age. In fact, in these age groups can be seen as natural that the graphic solutions are more important for the children as the cartographic ones; however the “map” and the fidelity to the topic of the competition are the elements linking their work to our competition.

In the last age group (between 13 and 15 years) I considered  the cartographic solutions more important than the graphic solutions used by children, because at this age they have had enough practice using maps and school atlases in the classrooms. Of course, the graphic design is also important and it can be decisive e.g. if we have two entries with similar cartographic quality.

The second age group (between 9 and 12 years) is the most complicated one: perhaps it can be considered a “transitional” group, because we can find drawings made by 9 to 10 years children (with solutions belonging to the first age group) and drawings made by 11 to 12 years children (with similar characteristics to drawings in the last age group). By this reason it is very difficult to formulate specific proposals for the whole group:  perhaps both factors (cartographic and graphic) can be considered together at equal level, but taking into account the previously mentioned differences within the group. In the majority of the competitions this is the age group with the largest number of drawings, which at same time are very diverse too. In my opinion, members of Jury face the major difficulties taking decisions on the drawings sent to this second age group.

As we can see, the Barbara Petchenik Competition has been characterized by a very strong interaction between graphics and cartography beginning from its first edition in 1993. When we see the drawings sent to the competitions, beginning from the first one in 1993, we can note that the graphic solutions play a very main role within the whole work, however they were drawn to (in principle) support the information, the message represented on the map. My personal opinion is that this fact has no negative influence on the competition, because it belongs to the main aim of the competition, as it can be read in the first paragraph of the rules: “…to promote the creative representation of the world in graphic form by children.” Often the graphic solutions are not within the map, but the map is framed in a very rich graphic environment and this environment can steal prominence to the map. ICA, the organizers of the competition and the Commission itself always welcome (and will continue to welcome) all the works made by children, because we consider each of them a little step forward on the long path to make more popular the science of maps and to motivate children on the map use as well as to increment their interest towards the maps. This attitude cannot and will not change in the future. In other hand, we cannot ignore the opinions of those colleagues, who are worried about a loss of prominence of the map compared to graphic design. In some opportunities they expressed that the map competition should encourage innovative solutions on how to make a map, beginning from e.g. the use or adaptation of projections to represent a message till how to represent the theme of the competition within the map. I agree that the map itself is the most important factor to consider when selecting winner drawings, but I also have some thoughts and/or questions on this topic. Previously I wrote my opinions in two very different articles related to the competition: the first one was published in Cartographica, 48:1, 2013 (A response to Denis Wood’s review of Children Map the World) and the second one is in the UNESCO SangSaeng magazine of December 2013 (Maps for Children, by Children). I would not repeat in detail all that I expressed in these two articles, I prefer to resume the essence of my thoughts: the general rules of the competition resume the cartographic criteria to be focused by Jury members when selecting the winner drawings, but the cartographic criteria cannot be applied in the same way for the four age groups. Why? In the first two age groups the children do not have nor have very few knowledge on maps, because children learn the first basic concepts related to orientation and maps when they are 8 years (3rd grade) in some educational systems. Children in the third age group have studied in more detail concepts related to maps and used school atlases too, while children in the last age group have experience using the atlases. For me it is clear that we cannot demand cartographic quality from the children in the first two groups. The 3rd group is a combination of two different levels of knowledge: the “beginner” one (9 to 10 years children, those who learned about map concepts, but do not yet have enough experience using maps) and a second one with more experience using maps (11 to 12 years children). By this reason I am not sure that we should ask for a higher cartographic quality of entries in this group. The situation is quite different with the last group (13 to 15), because they have been using atlases for several years; they should be familiarized with the different types of maps that they find at least in their school atlases. In this group we could ask for “real”, higher quality maps that could be combined with a very imaginative graphic solution to represent the topic of the competition.

Some of the questions still unanswered in my mind are: Is it needed to ask for or demand a clearly described cartographic quality of the entries submitted to the 4th age group? If the answer is positive, then should be it detailed in the rules of the competition? After writing these two questions I worded a third one: Can the competition (or one of the age groups within the competition) be cartographically improved without losing at least part of its current popularity? How could we prevent this possible loss of popularity? I should explain this question. We know that not only Geography teachers organize the competition at the first level (school): many of the maps are made by children under the guidance of a Drawing teacher or by children learning in an Art School. These teachers may not have any specific knowledge on maps and cartography, they only use maps and they organize and encourage children’s participation because they love maps, but they are not geographers or mapmakers, perhaps never learned about cartography or the process of creating a map. Can we ask these teachers to nominate only entries with a specified cartographic quality? We must prevent that a teacher (who is enthusiastic and is willing to organize the competition although he has no knowledge of cartography) may feel limited by these conditions and therefore can desist from organizing the competition.

Other ideas that can be discussed by commission members:

How can the number of participating countries in the competition be increased?

The number of participant countries was regularly about 30 in the last 10 years, it had no significant growth in the last 4 or 5 competitions. What could the Commission (and ICA) do to increase or motivate the participation of member countries in the competition? During the organization of the current competition (2015) I faced new, inspirational situations that give me reasons to be optimistic: the organization of the competition at local level by persons (parents) interested to participate although the national representative does not organize the competition; an institution that becomes ICA affiliated member to organize the competition in their country (which is non-ICA member); as well as at least three schools (from different provinces in an ICA member country) organizing themselves the competition with their pupils because the national representative does not do it. Furthermore, in 2013 a mother contacted me as Commission Chair asking about how her daughter could participate in the competition if the national representative does not organize it. We agreed and she sent me the drawing to Hungary, I forwarded it together with the Hungarian winners for the International Coordinator explaining the situation and at the (happy) end, the drawing won the 1st prize in its age group. Examples like these shows that the competition is always arousing interest and gaining new followers. However, ICA is very interested to know your ideas on how to stimulate the participation of member countries in the competition.

Participation of special schools in the competition

Some editions of Hungarian BPC counted with the participation of special schools. In these cases, we gave a special award for the best drawing or drawings named by these schools to the competition, but we did not send any of them to the international competition and exhibition. We do not know if in other countries the organizers have faced or not a similar situation (are they?). The current rules of the competition do not include the participation of special schools, but we could also consider including their possible participation into the rules. A kind of stimulation or recognition of their work could be a kind of special prize, to be given only if entries are named from a determined number of countries (e.g. at least four or five). In my opinion in these specific cases we cannot consider the age a factor to rank an entry into an age group, to compete with other children of the same range of age. This is a topic that has not been considered till now and it is only a personal proposal to exchange our opinions about it.

Use of digital (computer-based) techniques to make an entry

From the foundation of the Commission (and perhaps before 1999, but I do not remember it with certainty) the option of using a computer software to create a map was included in the rules /The entry should be an original piece of work and it can be made using traditional methods (colour pencils, water colour, etc) or a computer program/. By this reason the commission also offers graticules in raster format on our website, which can be used by the children to draw their maps (by hand or using any software). The commission should follow this practice, with new initiatives trying to adapt our work to the new conditions dictated by the technological development, in specific to the growing interest of children and young people on using computers or mobile devices in their daily activities. Based on my personal experiences as national coordinator of the competition, I would like to start an exchange of opinions for next possible steps on this direction. One Hungarian colleague asked me why we do not accept entries saved in digital format, completely made using only software or created for its presentation on the display (e.g. across the Web) and not printed. I had no answer to this question, but I take it now to know your opinions on this topic.

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