Young Amer­i­cans’ abysmal global lit­er­acy rat­ing a trou­bling trend

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICA - Chen Wei­hua Con­tact the writer at chen­wei­hua@chi­nadai­lyusa.com.

Are­cently re­leased sur­vey about what col­legeaged stu­dents in the United States know about the world is both shock­ing and telling, es­pe­cially when it comes to China.

The global lit­er­acy sur­vey, spon­sored by the Coun­cil on Foreign Re­la­tions and the Na­tional Ge­o­graphic So­ci­ety, found that only a quar­ter (25 per­cent) of the stu­dents knew that China was a coun­try with veto power over United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tions due to its sta­tus as a per­ma­nent mem­ber of the coun­cil. About 35 per­cent said they didn’t know and 20 per­cent picked Ger­many.

Only 29 per­cent cor­rectly picked In­done­sia a coun­try with the ma­jor­ity of its pop­u­la­tion be­ing Mus­lim from a list that in­cluded South Africa, Ar­me­nia and In­dia. An equal 29 per­cent be­lieve In­dia is a Mus­lim ma­jor­ity na­tion.

Mean­while, less than half (49 per­cent) knew that Man­darin Chi­nese was spo­ken by the most peo­ple in the world as their pri­mary lan­guage.

The sur­vey of 1,203 adults age 18-26 who cur­rently at­tend or have re­cently at­tended a two- or four-year col­lege in the US also found that 67 per­cent be­lieve China has a larger econ­omy than the US. Only 29 per­cent think the US econ­omy is larger.

Such a lack of un­der­stand­ing of China and world af­fairs may well ex­plain why US politi­cians, such as the two 2016 pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, Repub­li­can Don­ald Trump and Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton, can still pub­licly and falsely ac­cuse China of cur­rency ma­nip­u­la­tion de­spite the ba­sic facts.

Fred Berg­sten, a se­nior fel­low at the Pe­ter­son In­sti­tute for In­ter­na­tional Eco­nom­ics, who years ago ac­cused China of cur­rency ma­nip­u­la­tion, is now say­ing that there is no cur­rency ma­nip­u­la­tion in China and if there is, it’s only pos­i­tive ma­nip­u­la­tion.

“China’s in­ter­ven­tion in foreign ex­change mar­kets has sought to pre­vent a rapid RMB de­pre­ci­a­tion that would have had neg­a­tive con­se­quences for the Chi­nese and global economies,” it said.

What is heart­en­ing out of the sur­vey is that more peo­ple (79 per­cent) an­swered the ques­tion cor­rectly that the US im­ports more from China than any other coun­try. It is un­known if it is due to the fact that Made-in-China la­bels are ev­ery­where in US depart­ment stores.

In the fore­word of the re­port, Coun­cil on Foreign Re­la­tions Pres­i­dent Richard Haass and Na­tional Ge­o­graphic So­ci­ety Pres­i­dent and CEO Gary Knell col­lec­tively sighed at the sig­nif­i­cant gaps be­tween what young peo­ple un­der­stand about to­day’s world and what they need to know to suc­cess­fully nav­i­gate and com­pete in it.

Only 29 per­cent of the re­spon­dents earned a min­i­mal pass (66 per­cent cor­rect or bet­ter). Just over 1 per­cent — 17 of 1,203 — earned an A (91 per­cent or higher).

The young peo­ple know lit­tle about some facts that have been in the news a lot in re­cent years. Only 28 per­cent knew the US is bound by treaty to pro­tect Ja­pan if it is at­tacked and only 34 per­cent knew this about South Korea.

More alarm­ingly, only 30 per­cent knew that the US Congress is the con­sti­tu­tional author­ity to de­clare war.

Such low global lit­er­acy among the ed­u­cated young peo­ple is shock­ing be­cause most re­spon­dents are sup­posed to be Amer­i­cans, cit­i­zens of the world’s only su­per­power, which likes to po­lice the world.

It might be in­ter­est­ing to see what the re­sult is if the same test is con­ducted among 535 vot­ing mem­bers of the US Congress.

One rea­son for such low global lit­er­acy could be the fact that TV net­works in the US in­clude very lit­tle in­ter­na­tional news de­spite the fact that many global hot-spot is­sues are di­rectly linked to US foreign pol­icy.

The Na­tional Com­mit­tee on US-China Re­la­tions, which is mark­ing its 50th an­niver­sary this year, will hold its an­nual China Town Hall event on Tues­day evening, fea­tur­ing keynote speaker Henry Kissinger. The event will also in­clude lo­cal pro­grams in some 80 venues across the US to ed­u­cate peo­ple about key is­sues in US-China re­la­tions.

There is no doubt that events like this can im­prove peo­ple’s global lit­er­acy.

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