New survey by the New Zealand Initiative provides snapshot of Kiwis' general knowledge

The AM Show 19/11/2019

They say knowledge is power. 

Well if that's the case, many Kiwis might be a whole less powerful than they think they are. 

A new survey by the New Zealand Initiative tested New Zealanders' general knowledge, and the results showed some startling gaps in what we know.

Only half of respondents correctly answered how long it takes for the Earth to orbit the sun, and fewer than half - 44 percent - could name all seven continents.

The survey also quizzed Kiwis on basic mathematical knowledge, with around half of respondents failing to answer questions involving percentages and speeds.

Our historical knowledge left a lot to be desired too.

Although 90 percent of people answered correctly when asked if Winston Churchill was a real or fictional character, only 23 percent knew what year the Treaty of Waitangi was signed.

And almost 20 percent couldn't name the capital of Australia, while 30 percent of people thought humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time. 

The survey's author, Briar Lipton, says assessing a country's state of knowledge is "not a straightforward process to gain a handle on, let alone judge".

In order to try and do so, the survey based its questions on similar studies overseas, while adding a few that were more Kiwi-centric.

The representative survey conducted phone interviews with 1000 Kiwis aged 18 and over.

Lipton says by seeing where our gaps in knowledge lie, we can make more informed choices about what is worth learning.

"For the sake of educational equity, it is time we had a national conversation about knowledge, and what all Kiwi children should learn," wrote Lipton. 

She also admitted there may be disagreement about the relevance of some of the survey questions.

"Is it really necessary to know the year the Treaty of Waitangi was signed? Why should we learn to name the seven continents, or how to calculate distance from time and speed?

"We also know that education is about concepts and processes like problem-solving as well as facts."

A perfect score would not necessarily indicate that someone has had a great education, says Lipton.

The survey was completed between May 13 and May 28 using a random selection of phone numbers nationwide.

The AM Show / Newshub reporter James Fyfe