National Geographic has recently released a story about a survey they conducted to evaluate geography skills of young adults (ages 18-24) in the US. The results are disturbing. Here is their summary:
- Only 37% of young Americans can find Iraq on a map—though U.S. troops have been there since 2003.
- 6 in 10 young Americans don’t speak a foreign language fluently.
- 20% of young Americans think Sudan is in Asia. (It’s the largest country in Africa.)
- 48% of young Americans believe the majority population in India is Muslim. (It’s Hindu—by a landslide.)
- Half of young Americans can’t find New York on a map.
As a big proponent of Google Earth, I certainly believe all people should become more geographically aware. So, I whoeheartedly support raising awareness to learn more about geography. One of National Geographics’ objectives is to try to raise awareness of the importance of geography, and they have produced a heavily sponsored web site called “My Wonderful World” to increase global learning. So, it is only natural they concentrate on publishing the negative aspects of the survey results.
As an American myself, I was at first really concerned about these results. So, I had to look a little deeper at the survey. If you read the full report (PDF) you will find some good news: 1) the majority of young adults use the Internet; 2) those who use the Internet for news score better than those who don’t (and would have scored much better if they could have used Google Earth to answer questions); 3) half of the respondents said map reading skills are “absolutely necessary” in today’s world; 4) Of the 20 questions in the survey, over 50% of the questions were answered correctly – or almost correct (in my opinion some of the questions were easy to miss by young American adults given how the US news media reports) – by the majority of the respondents.
Some other things to note: the maps provided in the survey did not include labels, were black and white, and resolution was not very detailed. New York is a weird state geographically and I bet respondents would have done better if told to point the approximate location of NYC. Also, many of the respondents did worse on questions about places furthest away from their daily lives such as Asia (that seems normal to me).