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Summer 2006

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Giving Today's Youth the Geographic Knowledge They Lack

National Geographic Society Launches My Wonderful World

My Wonderful WorldTo combat geographic illiteracy, the National Geographic Society and leaders from the business, nonprofit, and education communities created My Wonderful World, a five-year public-engagement campaign that aims to motivate parents and educators to increase the geographic resources available to students aged 8 to 17 at home and in the classroom. "Geography exposes children and adults to diverse cultures, different ideas, and the exchange of knowledge from around the world," says Anna Marie Weselak, president of the National Parent-Teacher Association (PTA). "This campaign will help make sure our children get their geography so they can become familiar with other cultures during their school years and move comfortably and confidently in a global economy as adults."

Without understanding geography, it is impossible to understand the impact and scope of the events that shape society. The past decade hosted some of the most monumental events that changed the way the world operates. However, despite the constant exposure to images of conflict in the Middle East, natural disasters around the world, and political unrest, a recent National Geographic survey found that nearly two-thirds of Americans aged 18 to 24 could not locate Iraq on a map and one-third could not pinpoint Louisiana.

  group photo
Partnership members at the My Wonderful World kickoff.

"For the last four years, the planet has seen tremendous changes and upheavals from conflict and unrest in Iraq, other parts of the Middle East, and South Asia to a rash of natural disasters in many corners of the globe," says John Fahey, National Geographic Society president. "Geographic illiteracy impacts our economic well-being, affects our relationships with other nations and the environment, and isolates us from our world. Geography is what helps us make sense of our world by showing the connections between people and places. Without geography, our young people are not ready to face the challenges of the increasingly interconnected and competitive world of the 21st century."

The National Geographic-Roper Public Affairs 2006 Geographic Literacy Study, which surveyed 510 young Americans between December 2005 and January 2006, revealed the dire need for geographic awareness among today's youth and their lack of the basic skills required for navigating the international economy and understanding the world around them. Among the findings, the study found that of those surveyed

  • Fewer than three in ten think it is important to know the locations of countries in the news.
  • Only fourteen percent believe speaking another language is a necessary skill.
  • Forty-eight percent could not locate Mississippi on a United States map.
  • Forty-seven percent could not find the Indian subcontinent on a map of Asia.
  • Seventy-five percent could not find Israel on a map of the Middle East.
  • Four in ten cannot place Pakistan in Asia.
  • Fifty-four percent were unaware that Sudan is a country in Africa.

The My Wonderful World campaign serves as a multimedia outreach program that includes a public-service advertising campaign, promotional events, grassroots activities, and e-mail campaigns.

With the plan in place, the campaign needed to find the best way to reach the youth and provide teachers and students with the tools they need. Amid the negative outcome of the National Geographic survey, there was a ray of hope. The study showed that the percentage of young Americans who use the Internet for news on current world events has more than doubled, up to 27 percent from 11 percent in the 2002 survey. Eighty percent of young adults have been online within the past month. Nestled at the heart of the campaign is a rich Web site with a variety of resources for parents, teachers, and young adults.

"We wanted to provide resources to help kids be more aware about their world and more engaged in it," says Barbara Chow, executive director of the National Geographic Education Foundation. features suggestions for simple outdoor family activities; parent-student activities; links to geography games and online adventures; classroom materials for educators; and other tools that make geography an interactive, fun subject.

National Geographic Society is working with a coalition of organizations and agencies to provide the resources through the campaign, including the American Federation of Teachers, Anheuser Busch Amusement Parks, Association of American Geographers, Esri, National Basketball Association, National PTA, Sesame Workshop, United Nations Foundation, and many others. "The support by organizations and companies has been overwhelming," says Chow. "It is inspiring to see the diverse partners that have joined us in recognizing how geography affects each and every aspect of our world. We look forward to engaging more partners as the campaign grows."

The success of My Wonderful World will be seen in the future generations of American youth. They will be able to make more informed decisions, understand the changes that affect their lives, and be well-rounded global citizens.

More Information

For more information about the My Wonderful World campaign, visit

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