The results of a survey commissioned by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the National Geographic Society highlight significant gaps in what college-aged students understand about the world and what they need to know in order to contend with a world that is more interconnected than ever.
The Global Literacy Survey, conducted in May by ARC Research among 1,203 students aged 18 to 26 and educated at U.S. colleges and universities, reveals that few students possess important knowledge about the world and the United States' role in it, including which countries are U.S. allies and where U.S. troops are stationed overseas.
The results further indicated a lack of geographic knowledge, with only half of students correctly identifying Mandarin Chinese as the language spoken by the most people in the world, and only 57 percent of respondents able to identify Sudan as being on the African continent.
Despite the lack of overall global literacy displayed, a majority of respondents indicated it is important that they be knowledgeable about geography, world history, foreign cultures, and world events, and nearly three quarters—72 percent—said these topics are becoming more important to them.
There were also areas, such as the environment, in which the majority of respondents were relatively knowledgeable. For example, respondents knew that fossil fuels are a non-renewable resource (78 percent); and the increase in greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere is considered by scientists to be one of the causes of climate change (84 percent).
Other survey findings include
The Global Literacy Survey also revealed that college students get their information about the world by relying on a variety of resources. For example, respondents say they get their information about the world from
- only 28 percent knew that the United States is bound by a treaty to protect Japan if Japan is attacked;
- just 36 percent identified how many troops the United States has stationed in South Korea (answer: more than 3,000);
- 34 percent demonstrated they knew that over the past 5 years, the number of Mexicans leaving the United States and returning to Mexico has been greater than the number of Mexicans entering the United States; and
- 30 percent knew that the legislative branch of the U.S. government has the constitutional authority to declare war.
- Facebook (43 percent);
- CNN (40 percent);
- ABC News (33 percent);
- Huffington Post (26 percent); and
- comedy news programs (21 percent).