Study shows U.S. students lack knowledge about Asia

The Associated Press
Thursday June 21, 2001

LOS ANGELES — U.S. students lack general knowledge about Asia – the most populous and fastest-growing area in the world – partly because materials used in schools are outdated, superficial, and even inaccurate, a study found. 

The study released Wednesday by the National Commission on Asia in the Schools analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of current teaching and learning about Asia and Asian-American topics in primary and secondary classrooms. 

Although many schools work to incorporate Asia-related content into their curriculum, teachers lack adequate background and often teach without the benefit of quality instructional materials, the commission found. 

”(Prospective teachers) are not required to take any kind of specialized course (about) Asia as part of their teacher training program,” said Nancy Girvin, a commissioner and also director of curriculum and instruction at Cajon Valley Union School District. “So we bring our teachers into the classroom with little or no knowledge about Asia and expect them to teach a curriculum that involves topics related to Asia.” 

Classroom resources, especially textbooks, also contribute to the problem, Girvin said. They remain the most widely used classroom resource but commissioners found few that do a good job contextualizing the continent. After reviewing textbooks, ample opportunity for improvement was discovered. 

There were factual inaccuracies, cliches and misspellings of Asian names and terms. The commission – which includes education, policy, business, media and civic leaders – also found textbooks often portrayed Asian countries as universally exotic, impoverished, or both. 

James Hunt, former governor of North Carolina who chaired the study, said he was surprised by the findings. 

“I was shocked how uninformed the American people are about Asia,” he said. “For example, we discovered one out of four college-bound high school students cannot name the ocean that lies between the United States and Asia.” 

The study also found 82 percent of adults and 74 percent of students agree that there is a connection between Asia and America’s future, with most saying it is important to learn about Asia because of its influence on the U.S. economy and population. 

However, less the 20 percent of adults and students knew that India – with a population more than four times bigger than the United States – is the world’s largest democracy. And despite the painful legacy of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, half the adults and two-thirds of the students incorrectly identified it as an island nation, the study found. 

“We have to get across to our students that learning about Asia is absolutely essential to our future,” Hunt said. 

The National Commission on Asia in the Schools is a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization dedicated to fostering understanding of Asia and communication between Americans and Asians.