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Wednesday, 20 November, 2002, 18:39 GMT
Geography: The lost world
Map of world
The results highlight geography education gaps
If you are lost, don't ask a young person for directions - that is the message coming out of an international survey of 18-24 year olds conducted by America's National Geographic Society.

More than 3,000 young adults in nine countries were tested on their geographical knowledge - with some alarming results.

Countries tested
Sweden
Germany
Italy
France
Japan
Britain
United States
Canada
Mexico

Despite a deluge of news about the prospect of a war against Saddam Hussein, only 13% of Americans tested could point Iraq out on a map of the world.

Perhaps even more worrying - when confronted with the same map, only 89% of Americans could find their own country!

The surveyors asked the youngsters to answer 56 questions on geographic knowledge and current events.

The results were then graded, using the traditional grading system used in the United States.

Disappointing scores

Not a single country managed the 42 points need for an A grade, even top scoring Sweden only got an average of 40 questions right.

They were followed by Italy and Germany, tied on 38 points each. America notched up a D grade with an average of 23 correct answers.


If young people can't find places on a map and lack awareness of current events, how can they understand the world's cultural, economic and natural resource issues that confront us?

John Fahey, National Geographic Society President

Britain came a disappointing fourth from the bottom and Mexico trailed into last place with an average score of just 21 out of 56.

But America did have some cause to celebrate, as it moved up from the last place it held in the previous survey in 1988.

The survey took place in June and July 2002 as a follow-up to a similar test carried out in 1988 by the National Geographic Society.

Results

  • 11% of Americans could not find America.

  • 71% of Americans could point out where the Pacific Ocean - the world's largest body of water - was located. Worldwide, three in 10 of those surveyed could not locate the Pacific Ocean.

  • Apart from the Swedes, only 40% or fewer young adults could name China and India as the two countries with a population over one billion.

  • Less than 25% of French, Canadian, Italian, British and Americans could name four countries that officially acknowledged owning nuclear weapons.

  • 58% of Americans know the Taleban and al-Qaeda were based in Afghanistan, compared with 84% of Britons, but only 17% of Americans can locate the country.

  • 34% of Americans know the tiny Marquesas Islands, where the last season of reality TV show "Survivor" was filmed, is located in the South Pacific. But only 30% could point to the location of New Jersey.

  • 56% of Americans were unable to locate India, home to 17% of the world's population.

The president of the National Geographic Society, John Fahey, bemoaned the results.

"They highlight the urgency of the problem of geographic ignorance and the need to broaden our efforts beyond the classroom," he said.

"If young people can't find places on a map and lack awareness of current events, how can they understand the world's cultural, economic and natural resource issues that confront us?"

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