Dude, Where’s My Countries?

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At first I thought this was another ‘Look how dumb students are’ article – US teachers gave blank maps to a class and asked them to fill in the countries – but what surprised me in some cases was just how well these kids did do. They got the big countries right, and it was in the sorting order of the smaller European countries that they got tangled – as well all have done. When I came back from Latvia it was amazing how many adults asked me what Eastern Europe was like, and I had to explain that I’d been in the Baltic.

I also wonder, if they conducted the same exercise here in the UK, just how badly our own pupils (or their parents) would embarrass themselves. In the polynational US, where it is a matter of pride to identify your origins, students are able to pinpoint the countries of their ancestors. And I do think it’s hard to understand the relationships of the principalities, states and nations of Europe. What was interesting was just how many kids left Germany entirely off the map. For the rest of the results, see the full piece here.

11 comments on “Dude, Where’s My Countries?”

  1. Dan Terrell says:

    If you go travelling be sure to rent a GPS system in English.

  2. Helen Martin says:

    Some of it they got quite well, particularly western Europe, and the countries of eastern Europe we’ve ignored since WW2 because “it’s all USSR”. They knew the difference between Russia and the USSR (mostly). I was amazed how many knew Lichtenstein. I have the same problem as many of them do with Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. I know where they are on the Baltic but as one of them said “What?” on one. Do they start right next to Poland? and then the biggish one at the end is ? I can do Macedonia and Bulgaria and Croatia (did they all get Croatia because that ship sank there?)By the end of the WW1 anniversary they’ll probably know “Little Belgium” too.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    Oh, and they’ll soon have Ukraine clear, too, and Crimea and Sebastopol. Did they not know that some of what they labelled were cities?

  4. Dan Terrell says:

    Some of what the kids wrote remand me of what the early cartographers did. Here be cute blonde people. More Spain. Etc.

  5. pheeny says:

    Here be water!

    In fairness considering how insular the USA is they did pretty well

  6. Dan Terrell says:

    Pheeny – That’s the thing. We’re not so insular any more, except for one or two reactionary groups.
    The U.S. is and has been undergoing a major shift in population mix since the Vietnam debacle ended and this is effecting everything, which is why there so often unpleasantness about.
    The county I live in has more than 100 hundred languages that it must accommodate. This makes for some pretty wild Back to School Nights and the courts are taxed majorly trying to find interpreters for witnesses and defendants.
    The public path along my open backyard often looks like Karnival and the restaurants we now have around us! No longer does a couple a chunks of canned pineapple make a stir-fry dish exotic. Last night it was carry-out Bonchon chicken and homemade stir fry Indonesian noodles. Love it.

  7. Vivienne says:

    A long time ago – the Tonight programme possibly? Cliff Mitchelmore confronted Londoners with an outline of Africa and asked people to put in the countries. The results were abysmal and I recall thinking I should make an effort. Not sure, though, that I could properly do Africa, or Eastern Europe.

  8. Elizabeth Endicott says:

    I love the placement of Mongolia and “Another Mongolia” on this version of the map. After all, the Mongols in the thirteenth century did indeed control those regions of Eurasia.

  9. snowy says:

    If I remember correctly this was given out as fun test to a group of post-graduate students and as has been said they did very well to recall information they had not used for over a decade.

    But without knowing the precise context [ie. postgrads], forming a view of a whole population based on surveys of this kind is disingenious.

    There is even a talk by Prof. Hans Rosling from 2006 that demonstrates that post-graduate students are less ‘knowledgeable’ than monkeys.

    The proof is delivered very quickly in the first 2 minutes. [link up above]

    [If you have the time the rest of the short lecture is interesting in it's own right, even if math(s) is not ones 'thing'.]

  10. Helen Martin says:

    That was fascinating. Statistics is math but an easier kind to grasp, especially the way Prof. Rosling presents it. His talk is a perfect demonstration of the best use of computer graphics and the facts he illustrates are important, too.

  11. Keith says:

    Brilliant! Some of those remarks. Haven’t laughed as much in ages. Amazingly some kids found the Netherlands and didn’t call it Amsterdam!

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