Archive for Thursday, November 21, 2002

Americans fail world geography quiz

November 21, 2002


— One in 10 young Americans could not locate his own country on a blank map of the world, a survey of geographic literacy shows. Only 13 percent could find Iraq.

"Someone once said that war is God's way of teaching geography, but apparently today neither war nor the threat of war can adequately teach geography," John Fahey, president of the National Geographic Society, said Wednesday.

The organization's survey found that about one in seven Americans between age 18 and 24, the prime age for military service, could place Iraq. President Bush has said he is prepared to use force to rid Iraq of any weapons of mass destruction.

The majority of young people surveyed knew that the Taliban and al-Qaida were based in Afghanistan, but only 17 percent could find that country on a world map, though American-led forces have waged war there.

When more than 300 young Americans in the survey were shown a blank world map and asked to indicate the location of the United States, only 89 percent could do so.

Only 25 percent could select the correct population figures for the United States from a multiple choice list.

The international survey of young people in the United States and eight other countries " Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Sweden and Britain " asked 56 questions about geography and current events; there was only slight improvement in the score when compared with a 1988 survey.

The Americans got a "D" grade this year, with an average of 23 correct answers. Mexico was last with an average score of 21, three points from a failing grade.

Sweden's 40 average led the way, followed by Germany and Italy, each with 38. None of the countries got an "A," which required average scores of 42 correct answers or better on the 56 questions.

Robert A. Pastor, vice president of international affairs at American University in Washington, said the survey was "a good test about young people's knowledge of the world" and offered a snapshot of geographic knowledge "that we should take very seriously."

Fahey said the results indicated a larger problem " which may take a generation to correct " than the simple lack of geographic knowledge. He referred to "the apparent retreat of young people from a global society in an era that doesn't allow such luxury."

"This generation is highly skilled at what they want to block out and what they want to know," Fahey said. "Unfortunately, the things that they block out seems to include knowledge of the world that we all live in."

National Geographic is convening an international panel of policy-makers and business and media leaders to find ways to improve geographic education and to encourage interest in world affairs, the society said.

Other findings from the survey:

  • 34 percent of the young Americans knew that the island used on last season's "Survivor" show was located in the South Pacific, but only 30 percent could locate the state of New Jersey on a map. The "Survivor" show's location was the Marquesas Islands in the eastern South Pacific.
  • When asked to find 10 specific states on a map of the United States, only California and Texas could be located by a large majority of those surveyed. Both states were correctly located by 89 percent of the participants. Only 51 percent could find New York, the third most populous state.
  • On a world map, Americans could find on average only seven of 16 countries in the quiz. Swedes could find an average of 13 of the 16 countries.
  • 71 percent of the surveyed Americans could locate the Pacific Ocean, the world's largest body of water. Worldwide, three in 10 of those surveyed could not correctly locate the Pacific Ocean.
  • Although 81 percent of the surveyed Americans knew that the Middle East is the Earth's largest oil exporter, only 24 percent could find Saudi Arabia on the map.

Results from the survey are based on face-to-face interviews with at least 300 men and women. The questionnaires were in the local language, but the content was universally the same.

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