Britain and US clash (online) over geographic knowledge

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

You probably know that Sacha Baron Cohen's character Borat (from the movie of the same name) hails from Kazakhstan – but could you locate his homeland on an unmarked map? Or name the country that produces the most cocoa beans in the world?

If you aced those two geography questions, and you live in Britain or the United States, consider logging on to www.geographycup.com and see if you can score a few points for your national team. Until Dec. 31, a battle of knowledge and understanding is raging between the Brits and Americans. (At press time, Britain was trailing by 1.7 percentage points.)

The transatlantic challenge was conceived by Roger Andreson of Atlanta and Daniel Raven-Ellison of Reading, England. Mr. Andreson is founder of A Broader View, a company dedicated to promoting geographical awareness through games and competitions. Mr. Raven-Ellison is a secondary school teacher and cofounder of Give Geography Its Place, a grass-roots campaign focused on expanding the public's grasp of geography.

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"Geography is far more than a place on a map," says Raven-Ellison. "It's also about understanding and appreciating the issues that are taking place on a map, whether they are caused by man or caused by environment."

For instance, people may know about the escalating conflict in Darfur, a province of Sudan. But if they can't place Darfur on a map, they probably can't visualize the size of the country or which neighboring countries might be affected by the turmoil. "The complexity of the issue doesn't mean as much to you if you can't imagine where these places are," says Raven-Ellison.

Raven-Ellison found Andreson and www.geographyzone.com while doing some online research for Give Geography Its Place. Given the centuries-long bond between the United States and Britain, Raven-Ellison proposed a head-to-head competition. The Geography Cup challenge was officially launched Nov. 12, the start of Geography Awareness Week in the US. The game is largely relying on word-of-mouth and Web links to recruit new players. (Currently, there are 14,827 US participants and 2,701 in Britain.)

"I found with my geography products I was only reaching people already interested in geography," says Andreson. "Competition is a good way to get people interested in a subject."

While the quiz suggests participants expand their geography skills by ordering games and puzzles from A Broader View, Andreson says his main priority is to get people hooked on geography.

Here's how it works: Participants register at Geographycup.com by selecting a user name and password. The country location of your IP address will automatically determine if you are a Yank or a Brit. Once the game starts, you have two minutes to answer questions such as "Where is Madagascar?" by moving your cursor over a global map and clicking on what you think is the correct location. (Note: Several seasoned journalists at an international newspaper found it challenging.)

If you sail (or flounder) through 10 country-location questions before the time expires, you can answer questions such as, "Greenland is a self-governed territory of which country?" by locating and clicking on the correct country (Denmark). At the end of the two minutes, your score is tallied, boosting or dragging down your team's overall score.

Registered participants can compete up to three times daily for team points and an unlimited number of times on their own. Because of the difference in country population, the scores are determined by a percentage. The winning team will be awarded a globe-shaped trophy, to be gloated over by that country's top scorer – until next year's Cup.

The competition is close and new users are logging on every day. "It's been [about] a 1 percent difference between the two countries ever since the competition started," says Andreson.

One father at a recent parent-teacher meeting in Reading, a city west of London, was so irked to learn that Britain was losing to America that he vowed to go home and play that night. "Americans' knowledge of geography is a running joke here in the UK," says Raven-Ellison.

Indeed, a 2002 National Geographic magazine survey placed geography skills for 18- to 24-year-olds in the US as second to last for developed countries. On the other hand, National Geographic released another survey this fall reporting that 1 in 5 British schoolchildren could not locate Britain on a map of the world.

Oh, and in case you're wondering: The Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) in western Africa is the world's largest producer of cocoa beans.

Test your map skills

Here is a sample list of questions from the Geography Cup. To score points in the online version of the quiz, you not only have to know the right answer, but you also must locate the country on an unlabeled world map. The competition ends Dec. 31.

1. Which country recently created the largest sunken-ship artificial reef?

2. Made up of 33 atolls, which country straddles both the equator and the international date line?

3. Which country has the UN described as "virtually the sole provider" of the world's supply of opium?

4. Montserrat is a territory of which country?

5. Which country offered to send 1,500 medical doctors with 37 tons of medical supplies to New Orleans in the United States following hurricane Katrina?

6. Which country is predicted to have the largest economy in the world by 2050?

7. The world's largest coral reef is off the coast of which country?

Answers: (1) The US (The USS Oriskany was scuttled 24 miles off the coast of Pensacola, Fla., on May 17, 2006); (2) Kiribati (pronounced "kir-uh-BAHSS"), in the West Central Pacific Ocean; (3) Afghanistan; (4) United Kingdom. Montserrat is in the Caribbean; (5) Cuba (the offer was rebuffed); (6) China, according to a 2003 report by Goldman Sachs; (7) Australia; (The Great Barrier Reef).

Source: www.geographycup.com

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