It is a widely known fact that people just don’t know their Geography. Americans in particular are notorious for it, but that led me to wonder just how well the rest of the world knows where places are on the map. National Geographic once ran a survey among people between the ages of 18 to 24 in nine countries to test their geography skills. These countries included the USA, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Sweden, Germany, France, UK, and Italy. Of the 56 questions asked, Sweden came in first place with an average of 40 questions answered correctly. After them came Germany followed by Italy. Americans answered only 23 questions right while Mexico came in last place with 21 questions. Just above them were the UK and Canada with a score of 28 and 27.

According to these numbers, 39% of Americans would have failed the test and 9% of Americans would have gotten an A. What is especially alarming about this is that the questions asked were said to have been at the fifth grade level or lower. Some of the questions that Americans did the most poorly on were locating the average population of the country, which only 25% got right. They also had the most difficultly locating Japan, Russia, Afghanistan, and Argentina. Americans also had trouble associating Afghanistan with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and locating the Pacific Ocean, though the Swedes did even worse on this question. However, 89% of Americans could identify the USA, better than the Germans, Italians, and British. Another interesting question that was asked was how confident Americans thought they were about their geography skills. The average answer was 59% which shows that they tend to overestimate just how much they know.

The results of this test should alarm educators in our country. Obviously, too little time is being spent on Geography in our schools. At the same time, the US spends much more for education than Sweden, Germany, and Italy. More Americans go to college than Italy and Germany despite their higher scores, and half of Americans are said to display a “low literary rate”. American math skills rank 17th in the world as well at the 12th grade level. The US also comes in second in claiming they are bored in school most of the time behind Ireland. Obviously, educators are not utilizing the time they have to teach children what they need to know, making us the laughing stock of the world.

On a plus side, however, one website last year started the World Geography Cup. It encouraged internet users from both the US and the UK to take a test measuring their geography skills to see who would do better. At the end of the year, the scores were added up. The US team scored a 62% with 41,885 participants, and the UK team scored 57% with 10,820 participants. This means that with more people participating and with more of a chance to bring our percentages down, the US beat the UK at the geography game. So, maybe there’s hope for us yet.

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