The New York Times (NYT) has named Jamaica as the “Country of the Week” in its interactive quiz series that features a different country every week during the school year. The quizzes are designed to introduce students to different countries via maps, videos, photographs, and journalism. Beginning on September 21, 2020, visitors to the New York Times website have the chance to show what they know about the Caribbean nation of Jamaica and perhaps to learn something new about the island as well. The quiz starts with a clickable map designed to show where Jamaica is located on the planet. After locating Jamaica, the quiz goes on to explore its culture, cuisine, economy, and geography through a multiple-choice question-and-answer format.
While the New York Times acknowledges the limitations of this format, it is hoped that just answering the question spurs students to read and learn more. Each answer choice gives additional background on the item and a photo to capture a student’s imagination. For example, one of the questions in the Jamaica feature asks for the name of the country’s capital city. When the correct answer of “Kingston” is selected, a photo of a street in Kingston opens up with a short paragraph describing the city and a link to obtain further information about Kingston. If a wrong answer is submitted, the right information still pops up, and the student learns the right information.
The NYT had wanted to create an activity for students that focused on geography for some time, but the issue became more critical following the discovery by researchers that only 36 percent of Americans could locate North Korea on a map. When respondents were asked what policies the United States should apply regarding North Korea, those who could identify it on the map tended to prefer diplomatic and non-military strategies when compared with those who could not find it. Harm de Blij wrote in “Why Geography Matters” that the “the American public is the geographically most illiterate society of consequence on the planet, at a time when United States power can affect countries and peoples around the world.” According to Alec Murphy, a geography professor at the University of Oregon, without geographical knowledge, there is “no check on misleading public representations about international matters.”