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Tonlé Sap Lake (TSL) in Cambodia: Sustainable management of a degraded environment

  • A fantastic alternative case study for the 12.4 section of the Environmental Management module of the Cambridge Geography International A Level: The management of a degraded environment.

I created this case study due to frustration with the existing one in the Nagle & Guiness textbook that accompanies the course. They use 'Namibia - community development'. I and my students find this case study a bit limited in information for use for evaluation.

In Year 13 for A2, in order to to achieve a Level 4 response (the highest band) to a 20 mark question requiring this case study, evaluation is needed throughout the essay and of course in the conclusion (quote from the mark scheme: 'effective and sustained evaluation with a sound conclusion'). It is very useful therefore to use a case study that enables multiple points of evaluation in depth. In comes the Tonlé Sap Lake idea.

I racked my brains for potential areas in the world with degraded environments (many as you can imagine!). But I also needed a place where there were likely to have been attempts to ameliorate the local and wider area. I also needed somewhere where this has been in evidence for a while and probably with mixed results - all fertile ingredients for an evaluative mind!

Travelling to TSL many years ago possibly brought forth the idea to look into this area in more depth, so I set my mind, the internet and ChatGPT (cross referencing needed of course) to helping me research and filter the information necessary to fit my students' needs for the CAIE syllabus.

Psychological connection may play a part in this too. My students are currently mostly Chinese and maybe have more of an affinity with a lake environment than an arid area (I'm not discounting the fact China has multiple desert and arid regions though!) and this might make it easier for them to understand the issues facing a lake environment, although this is speculation on my part.

This case study looks into the whole of the TSL basin and feeder rivers (namely the Mekong) and therefore goes into detail about the macro threats and management strategies. In addition, it studies effect on a more micro scale, taking one village and it's surrounding area as an example. Both can be used in an exam response. There are valid statistics and place names for detailed 'exemplars'. The images and maps help students to visualise the issues and multiple YouTube videos have been included too for the students to deepen their knowledge and understanding and for them to take notes on.

The tasks prompt students to gather the information they need. I could spoon-feed them this, but they would not be learning how to collate and synthesise information otherwise. The writing frame for the essay, not only supports those students for whom the English language is not their first (and/or) strong point; it also guides them in essay construction and in one of my class' major weaknesses - the ability to include an effective and sustained evaluation.

Many of my students were good at including some evaluation but this was often weak and/or not enough. This would get them to Level 3 (11-15 marks) rather than Level 4 (16-20 marks). Without any evaluation, at best they would be stuck at a top Level 2 mark (10 marks at best).

If the students are strongly encouraged to follow the steps taken in the support sheet, they cannot fail to include sustained evaluation. After that, it's a question of how effective the evaluation is. This can take a varying amount of extra practice depending on ability level.

Using the methods in my support sheet and the information provided, 80% of my students were able to produce Level 4 answers to a 20 mark case study question under timed exam conditions. The 20% who didn't, failed to fill in the sheet properly. So overall, I'm very pleased with the essay marks this case study with accompanying support sheet provided.

As exam season has now arrived - time for them to replicate these great results under even greater pressure!

Tonle Sap Lake (TSL) in Cambodia_ Sustainable management of a degraded environment
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