National Geographic Cancels Popular Geography Bee Because Of Equity

GeoBee, the long-standing geography contest is over. National Geographic, who has sponsored the GeoBee for over three decades, has decided that the bee will “permanently cease” due to issues regarding equitable participation.

According to the outlet’s website the National Geographic Society decided that the contest would be cancelled after 33 years. This was “to make room for new, transformative and innovative geography education opportunities where students from all over the world can more equally participate.” It is not clear when the decision was taken.

The 2019 GeoBee was the last. National Geographic claimed that GeoBees were suspended during government shutdowns for COVID-19 in 2020-2021. National Geographic also stated that this gave NGS members an opportunity to reimagine geographical education completely. As the GeoBee did not return, the reimagined curriculum clearly excluded competition.

Critics suggest that the cancellation of the bee may have been motivated by racial or ethnic factors. Young males of Asian descent seem to have dominated the competition for more then ten years. These claims have been fuelled by National Geographic’s emphasis on helping students “more equitablely participate”.

National Geographic also tried to shift the focus from friendly competition between Americans towards global activism. According to the outlet, it wants to create a new generation “solution-seekers” who can “confront our century’s most pressing problems,” such as COVID-19 or “racial injustice.” National Geographic also mentioned environmental activism, perhaps even so-called climate change, when it said that such “solution-seekers” could “help protect our planet.”

The GeoBee was established in 1989. It quickly became a niche competition thanks to Alex Trebek (the beloved late host of Jeopardy!), who hosted the geobee until 2014. The GeoBee was established by President Barack Obama in 1989. He presented one of the questions and discussed the importance geographical knowledge.

The competition for the GeoBee was intense, requiring participants to remember obscure information from encyclopedias and almanacs. Eighth-grader Nihar Janga from Texas was the last GeoBee winner. She correctly answered the question hosted by Mo Rocca, “One-third (or more) of Norway’s northernmost counties is located on which plateau?” Atreya Mallanna from Massachusetts was the runner-up.