Canadian University Students Can’t Answer Rudimentary Geography Questions


I was more than just a little astonished when I learned that Canadian university students were not able to answer rudimentary geography questions such as identifying Africa and Europe on a world map or locating the Atlantic Ocean.

That these students fell through the cracks within our education system does not surprise me.  What surprises me is that regardless of the consistent inundation of daily world news through a vast array of media communications, these students have a limited scope or understanding of geography – almost as if they have disengaged themselves from anyone or anything outside their clique.

Judith Adler, a sociology professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland had a suspicion that the undergrads in her classroom had no idea where some of the countries were located when she would mention them in class studies.  Upon giving her students a geography pop quiz, she found that "…a sizeable portion of the students would have no idea where the Mediterranean Sea is, circle Africa to indicate Europe and locate England and Ireland in Africa."  An astonishing 75% of her students failed the quiz!

"If we continue to short change Canadian children in terms of a solid education in geography, we’re essentially robbing them of their potential and capacity to engage fully in society as part of an informed citizenry.  Not only is this grossly unfair to today’s students, but it also unduly compromises Canada’s future in a globalized world."

Connie Wyatt Anderson
Chair of Canadian Geographic Education
Globe and Mail - 2013

 “…some of these students will be paying off student loans by perhaps teaching English in Korea, and we’ve had young people of a recent generation risking their lives in Afghanistan, and some will be graduating and getting a job offer in Brazil, maybe,” says Ms. Adler.

If you can’t locate where you live on a map, what do you know about your own national identity?  It’s a profound question.

Connie Wyatt Anderson states that as a teacher she has seen first hand how students react when ‘they get it and, “…undeniably, geography contributes to a sense of identity on a personal level and collectively as a nation.”

Anderson believes that the solution to geographic illiteracy within the education system is to not only strengthen the curriculum from kindergarten to Grade 12 but also hire teachers that have a passion for teaching geography and history, who possess geography-specific professional development.

Joseph Kerski, Geographer and Education Manager with the Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc. (ESRI) in Broomfield, Colorado stated, "The real tragedy is not that students don’t know where the Atlantic Ocean is, but how oceans function, why oceans are important to the health and climate of the planet, how oceans support economies, about coral reefs and other ocean life, about threats to the ocean, and so on."

"The tragedy is that very little of what I consider to be true geoliteracy is being rigorously taught and engaged with around the world:

  • core geographic content (such as sustainability, biodiversity, climate, natural hazards, energy and water),
  • the spatial perspective (such as holistic, critical, and spatial thinking about scale, processes, and relationships), and
  • geographic skills (such as working with imagery, GIS, GPS, databases and mobile applications)."

"While there are many fine exceptions, we need a much greater global adoption, beginning with valuing geography and geospatial as fundamental to every student’s 21st Century education," says Joseph Kerski.

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS) and Canadian Geographic Education have done more to promote geographic literacy in Canada than any other organization in the country by providing free tools for the classroom including learning activities such as resources on the boreal forest, energy use, watershed protection, the War of 1812, national parks, railways, football, capital cities and wind energy. They also provide take-away materials for students and teachers, as well as giant floor maps where students can literally interact with Canada’s geography.  They have operated the Great Canadian Geography Challenge for 18 years as a way to create excitement and pique student's interest.

Are you geographically literate?  Want to find out?

Test your knowledge of basic geography by taking Canadian Geographic’s Geo Quiz.  Click on this link to pick a quiz.

Written by Veronika Bradley, Editor for Children's Health and Safety Association – August 15, 2013 and Republished by Diligencia Investigative Reporting – April 2019


To view the original story from CBC with Judith Adler, professor at Memorial University, please click on  Students Don't Know Geography

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