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American College Students Know Little of World Events


 A bioengineering student leads prospective college-bound high school seniors on a campus tour in Los Angeles. Fewer California high school students have been offered admission to University of California campuses for the fall, officials reported

A bioengineering student leads prospective college-bound high school seniors on a campus tour in Los Angeles. Fewer California high school students have been offered admission to University of California campuses for the fall, officials reported

Young people in the United States do not have a strong understanding of the world and their place in it.

Two U.S.-based groups, the Council on Foreign Relations and the National Geographic Society, commissioned an online survey earlier this year. They wanted to know what young people educated in American colleges knew about geography, U.S. foreign policy, recent international events, and economics.

In general, the results were not very good.

The bad news

The survey was given to over 1,200 Americans between the ages of 18 and 26 years. All of them currently attend, or formerly attended, a 2- or 4-year college or university.

The average test score, out of 75 total possible answers, was 55 percent.

The study identifies a few important questions that American students did not know about their own country.

For example, less than 30 percent knew that a treaty requires the United States to protect Japan if it is attacked. Only 30 percent knew that the only part of the U.S. government that can declare war is Congress.

The online survey produced findings that are similar to the findings of other recent studies.

The Internet

Part of the problem, say the organizers of the survey, is the Internet. They say it is becoming harder to get good information about what is happening in the world today.

Susan Goldberg is with the National Geographic Society. She says people never have to see anything that differs from their understanding of the world; many get their news from a newsfeed.

Forty-three percent of those questioned said they read about national and international news on Facebook.

Another problem is that classes do not require students to learn about international issues. That is the opinion of Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations.

"The problem is schools do not require that students take these courses to graduate," he said. "There is a fundamental difference between offering a course and requiring it."

If such information is not required, Haass said, then the United States could have leaders like Gary Johnson. Johnson is the presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party. He did not know about the Syrian city of Aleppo when a reporter asked him about it.

The good news

The survey results were not all bad. The young people who were questioned demonstrated a good understanding of climate change and renewable energy.

Even if the young people failed to understand many of the questions, the majority of them said that international issues were becoming more important to them.

Only two percent said that knowledge of foreign or non-U.S. cultures was not important. One percent said knowledge of world events was not important.

Haass says these findings suggest the need to find ways to get good information to students, both in school and online. To help, the Council on Foreign Relations is creating a new program called CFR Campus, designed to help build knowledge about global issues.

I’m John Russell.

Kevin Enochs wrote this story for VOA News. John Russell adapted this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

survey – n. an activity in which many people are asked a question or a series of questions in order to gather information about what most people do or think about something

commission – v. to order or request (something) to be made or done

newsfeed – n. An electronic transmission of news, as from a broadcaster or an Internet newsgroup

online – adj. connected to a computer or the internet

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