One pupil in five can't find Britain on the map
By SARAH HARRIS Last updated at 23:14pm on 22nd October 2006
One in five schoolchildren is unable to find the United Kingdom on a map of the world, research has revealed.
One in ten cannot name a single continent and more than 20,000 children in London do not realise they live in England's capital city.
Education experts described the findings as "rather frightening", saying schools must concentrate on the basics in geography lessons.
The subject is a compulsory part of the National Curriculum for five to 14-year-olds.
But critics attribute the lack of basic geographical knowledge on secondary school lessons which focus on green issues such as global warming rather than facts and figures.
The study was carried out by National Geographic Kids magazine which questioned more than 1,000 British six to 14-year-olds to mark its UK launch.
The survey showed that boys have slightly better geographical skills than girls, with 65 per cent being able to locate a number of countries around the world compared with 63 per cent of girls.
Less than two thirds of children (60 per cent) were able to locate the UK's closest ally, the U.S., and 86 per cent failed to identify Iraq, in spite of its dominance of the news agenda.
Scottish children were the most geographically aware, with 67 per cent being able to identify the most countries, out of England, the U.S., France, China and Iraq on a world map.
More Scots youngsters (98 per cent) were able to name London as England's capital city than English children (97 per cent).
Children from the East Midlands were the least knowledgeable, with only 61 per cent able to identify the named countries.
Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, said: "These results underline the need for education to concentrate on the essentials.
"How are children going to be able to get as much out of their life if they fail to have an understanding of the shape of the world?"
Environmentalist David Bellamy added: "People say the world is getting smaller but for children it's still an undiscovered place with many of them not being able to recognise their own country on a world map."
Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers, dismissed the magazine's findings as "nonsense".
He described the figures as another example of the "constant desire to produce statistics to do down the English education system".
An earlier study from Canterbury Christ Church University College in Kent warned that pupils were leaving secondary school knowing "everything about pollution but nothing about rivers or mountains".
A Department for Education and Skills spokesman said pupils should develop an understanding of where places are.
He added: "All 14-year-olds should be taught to use atlases and globes, and maps and plans at a range of scales."
Meanwhile more and more pupils are leaving school unable to write properly because they so often use computers.
Department for Education and Skills figures show boys in particular struggle with joined-up handwriting.
The findings are backed up by a U.S. study which looked at the essays of 1.5million 16 and 17-year- olds sitting the equivalent of the first-year A-level exam.
Only 15 per cent used joined-up handwriting.