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August 13, 2021

What's wrong with Canadian students?

Ask a first-year college or university student to name the Prime Minister of Canada or to identify the Atlantic Ocean on a map.

You might be surprised by the answers.

"Geo-illiterate students", as the Royal Canadian Geographical Society call them, may be more common than you think.

Sociology students at Memorial University in St. John's Newfoundland made headlines this past January when their professor revealed that many of them could not identify world continents -- let alone the body of water that surrounds their province.

Now other university professors have come forward admitting that this isn't an isolated case.

Geographers across Canada concerned with students' lack of basic geographical literacy met recently to discuss this issue and to chart a plan of action.

John Geiger, CEO of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, says, "We short-change tomorrow's citizens and Canada's future when we don't provide today's students with a solid geographic education that ensures they are both geographically and spatially literate."

But basic knowledge is not just limited to what you know in geography.

For instance, when my husband taught first-year university students he discovered that even their general knowledge of Canada and major world events was also lacking.

Out of his class of 35 students, only 19 were able to correctly name the Prime Minister of Canada.

This lack of general knowledge isn't something to take lightly.

I remember in public and secondary school how we were drilled on Canadian geography: colouring maps, labelling major waterways, provinces and capitals. 

How do you go through life not even having a rough idea of where other continents are located -- let alone what major cities are part of this great country? 

How do you discuss rising trends when you know nothing about general past history to compare them to?

How can history not repeat itself if you know nothing about major world events and the cause and effects? 

Now I'm not saying that all students entering post-secondary education are devoid of basic knowledge, because there are those, of course, who are in the know.

However, there is reason for concern when professors are taking notice that our youth are entering college and university in numbers lacking the basic general knowledge that we all assume they have.

Test your general knowledge of Canada (without the use of search engines or other assistance!):

1. Name the Prime Minister of Canada.

2. Name the Capital of Canada

3. How many provinces and territories in Canada?

4. Name the provinces and territories.

5. Name the capitals of each province and territory.

6. Name the Great Lakes in Canada.

7. What ocean is on the west coast?

8. What ocean is on the east coast?

(Answers: 1. Stephen Harper; 2. Ottawa; 3. 10 provinces, 3 territories; 4. British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut; 5. Victoria, B.C., Edmonton, AB, Regina, SK, Winnipeg, MB, Toronto, ON, Quebec City, QC, Fredericton, NB, Halifax, NS, Charlottetown, PEI, St. John's, NL, Whitehorse, YT, Yellowknife, NT, Iqaluit, NU; 6. Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior (tip: easy to remember with acronym HOMES); 7. Pacific; 8. Atlantic

By Donna Donaldson, MSN Money

Do you feel that students today are lacking in basic general knowledge? Do you think that it is important to know these basic facts?



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...