The things students don’t know…

I just had a student come to the reference desk with a question about a business assignment about India for a class I taught last week. (Every student in the class has to write the same memo about India, so I’m not worried about her confidentiality: she could be any one of the 19 students in that class.)

In the course of helping her sort through a bunch of factual information about India, I found myself providing all kinds of context for that information: pointing out that the fact that the population was 1.2 billion people, but the land area was one third that of the U. S. meant that population density was very high; mentioning that although the main religion is Hinduism, there’s the whole Hindu-Muslim thing (not to mention the whole India/Pakistan thing!); commenting that while yes, it is factually correct to say that India achieved its independence in 1947, it’s much more meaningful to say “India is a former British colony” and what that implies for the relationship between India and Great Britain (ever wonder why English is so prevalent in India?) … that sort of context-building information.

To her credit, she did notice that the stats she had (from the CIA World Factbook) showed 300-plus airports, only 250 of which had paved runways. “Hm,” she said, “I wonder what’s up with that?” “Well, India is a very poor country,” I said.

I’m always surprised at how little they know about the world, and how much they can learn from us, even in the most unlikely situations.