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Most young Americans can't find Iraq on map - study

Deborah Zabarenko / Reuters | May 3 2006

Most American young people can't find Iraq on a map, even though U.S. troops have been there for more than three years, according to a new geographic literacy study released on Tuesday.

Fewer than 4 in 10 Americans aged 18-24 in a survey could place Iraq on an unlabeled map of the Middle East, a study conducted for National Geographic found. Only about one-quarter of respondents could find Iran and Israel on the same map.

Sixty-nine percent of young people picked out China on a map of Asia, but only about half could find India and Japan and only 12 percent correctly located Afghanistan.

"I'm not sure how important it is that young adults can find Afghanistan on a map. But ... that is symptomatic of the bigger issue, and that's (U.S. young adults) not having a sense that things around the world really matter that much," said John Fahey, president of the National Geographic Society.

The study results confirm Fahey's concern: 21 percent said it was "not too important" to know where countries in the news are located.

Half of respondents said it was "absolutely necessary" to know how to read a map, but a large percentage lacked basic practical map-reading skills.

For example, most young people were able to locate a port city on a fictitious map, but one-third would have gone in the wrong direction in the event of an evacuation.

In general, natural disasters appear to have a limited impact on young Americans' view of the world, the study found.

Only 35 percent identified Pakistan as the country hit by a catastrophic earthquake last October, killing over 70,000 people; 29 percent thought it happened in Sri Lanka.

Most respondents could find Louisiana and Mississippi, but still more than one-third failed to find those two states that were the subject of daily news coverage after the onslaught of hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year.

There were some positive signs: young people who go online for news and who use two or more different news sources show a greater knowledge of geography, the study found.

In addition, the American Association of Geography reported that enrolments in college geography classes is up.

Young men did better on geography questions than young women. International travel and foreign language study improved geographic knowledge although recent immigrants and the children of immigrants tended to get fewer questions right.

The study was conducted in face-to-face interviews with 510 respondents in the continental United States in late 2005 and early 2006. It has an error margin of 4.4 percentage points.

Aiming to improve geographic literacy among U.S. young people, National Geographic joined with businesses, non-profit and educational groups to launch a five-year multimedia campaign called My Wonderful World. More information is available online at www.mywonderfulworld.org.

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