Staunton, August 19 – In Soviet times, schools devoted a great deal of attention to geography and especially to how much larger the USSR was than any other country and where its natural wealth was located. But since 1991, such instruction appears to have taken a back seat to other subjects at least as far as what Russians take away from it.
Yesterday, August 18, was Russia’s Day of the Geographer; and in honor of that, the VTsIOM polling agency asked Russians a few questions about their knowledge of where things are within the Russian Federation and beyond its borders. Their answers were anything but encouraging (wciom.ru/index.php?id=236&uid=10410).
Among them were the following:
· Only 42 percent correctly identified Nigeria out of a list of four countries as having the highest natural population growth rate.
· Only 63 percent could correctly identify the capital of Khakassia as Abakan. Twenty-two percent said they had difficulty specifying it, and nine percent provided a completely incorrect answer.
· Only seven percent of Russians knew that the Silurian period was the earliest geological era.
· A third of all Russians said that Japan had the highest percentage of young people and children in its population.
· Nearly a third confused Iceland and Norway.
· Thirty-five percent of Russians, down 10 percent since 2009, correctly identified Kursk Oblast as an iron-mining region.
Geographic illiteracy is not confined to Russia, of course. People in many countries know little about where things are and what they are called. But given Vladimir Putin’s obsession with space and geography, it is perhaps surprising that Russian ignorance in this area appears to be so high and at least in some cases increasing.