Survey Reveals Geographic Illiteracy
Bijal P. Trivedi
National Geographic Today
In a nation called the world's superpower, only 17 percent of
young adults in the
The National Geographic–Roper 2002 Global Geographic Literacy Survey polled more than 3,000 18- to 24-year-olds in Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Sweden and the United States.
survey demonstrates the geographic illiteracy of the
11 percent of young citizens of the
the threat of war in
humiliating was that all countries were better able to identify the
"It gives the sense that there is this Americentric thing going on—that we are big and powerful and have all these people in our country," said John Fahey, President and CEO of the National Geographic Society.
On the other hand, Pastor suggests that the results could mean that most young Americans just have no idea of the total world population (about six billion).
Poor Geographic Literacy Worldwide
Young adults worldwide are not markedly more literate about geography than the Americans.
average, fewer than 25 percent of young people worldwide could locate
all the young adults in the survey, only about one-third in
survey results are not all bleak, says Roger Downs, head of the geography
Geography Not Valued in Schools
the last Geographic-sponsored survey in 1988, said
schools are not solely to blame, either. "Wouldn't it be nice if parents
also read atlases to their children?"
Questions covering current events or practical activities yielded more promising results.
geography and life intersect, people pay attention," said Nick BoyonBoyon, senior vice president for international research at RoperASW, in
Geographic knowledge increases through travel and language proficiency, among other factors.
the highest-scoring countries—
fight geographic ignorance, and apathy, among young people in the
Next year the panel will recommend initiatives to policymakers in those areas—and to parents and children.
Despite the daily bombardment of news from the
Americans ages 18 to 24 came in next to last among nine countries in the National Geographic-Roper 2002 Global Geographic Literacy Survey, which quizzed more than 3,000 young adults in Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Sweden, and the United States. Top scorers were young adults in
Out of 56 questions that were asked across all countries surveyed, on average young Americans answered 23 questions correctly. Others outside the
Among young Americans’ startling knowledge gaps, the study found that
• nearly 30 percent of those surveyed could not find the Pacific Ocean, the world’s largest body of water;
• more than half—56 percent—were unable to locate India, home to 17 percent of people on Earth; and
• only 19 percent could name four countries that officially acknowledge having nuclear weapons.
Several perhaps interrelated factors affected performance—educational experience (including taking a geography course), international travel and language skills, a varied diet of news sources, and Internet use. Americans who reported that they accessed the Internet within the last 30 days scored 65 percent higher than those who did not.