Young Adults Ill-Informed About the People, Places, and Cultures of the World, Report Says

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Even with ongoing news coverage of the war in Iraq, the aftermath of natural disasters in far-flung regions, and the globalization of the marketplace, young adults in the United States appear isolated, uninformed, and indifferent when it comes to the world’s people, places, and cultures, according to a new survey of Americans’ geographic knowledge.

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The latest geographic-literacy study by the National Geographic Education Foundation concludes that too many young adults lack basic knowledge of the world, leaving them essentially unprepared for living in an increasingly global society. And few understand the importance of such skills or deem them essential.

“Most young [American] adults between the ages of 18 and 24 demonstrate a limited understanding of the world beyond their country’s borders, and they place insufficient importance on the basic geographic skills that might enhance their knowledge,” says the 2006 Geographic Literacy Study released May 2 by the foundation.

Campaign Launched

Six in 10 respondents, for example, could not find Iraq on a map of the Middle East, most did not know that Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim nation, and only one-fourth knew that Mandarin Chinese—not English—is the most widely spoken native language in the world.

Indeed, less than a year after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, just two-thirds of those polled could find Louisiana on a map. About half could locate New York state.

The survey, by the New York City-based market-research company Roper Public Affairs, was conducted in person in late 2005 and early 2006 with a nationally representative sample of 510 adults, 18 to 24. Participants were asked to locate specific countries on a map, to identify key issues in current events, and describe various political and economic concerns.

They were also asked about their personal experience with using the Internet, map-reading skills, foreign-language proficiency, and international travel.

To draw attention to the need for geographic literacy, the educational arm of the National Geographic Society, along with two dozen other educational and advocacy organizations, launched a campaign May 2 to boost Americans’ knowledge of the world.—an Internet resource with geography facts and quizzes, curriculum materials, blogs, and advocacy strategies—will accompany print and broadcast advertisements to raise awareness of international issues and their connection to the United States.

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