Just 59 percent of sixth and ninth-grade adolescents knew that the sun rises in the East, while 11 percent thought the day began in the North, the Jugendreport Natur 2010 found.
Though about one-third said they lived in the countryside, 10 percent of the pupils said they thought cows produced pasteurised UHT milk and that hens laid more than six eggs per day – though they actually lay only one.
“Children and adolescents can hardly gather certain experiences any longer,” said Gerd Sonnenleitner, head of the IMA agriculture advocacy association, one of the study supporters, in a statement. “What was was normal to my generation, such as spending the summer helping on the farm or working in the garden now falls under the heading ‘exotic.'”
The study, conducted under the auspices of German Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen, also uncovered grave misunderstandings among young people about environmental protection. For 49 percent of the 11 to 15-year-olds the term “sustainability” was unfamiliar.
A further indication of students' alienation from nature was indicated in their answer to what portion of a mobile phone is made from natural substances – just four percent had the correct answer of 100 percent.
Nature sociologist and study leader Rainer Brämer attributed the “alarming natural oblivion” on a lack of engagement by parents and dry teaching materials in schools. When students were asked about their favourite subject in school, six percent chose either biology, physics or chemistry. Sports class was the most popular at 35 percent, the study found.
Despite their ignorance, many students said they feel attracted to nature. Some 47 percent of the 3,032 polled between February and May said they preferred to spend their free time outside.
Students in the states of Schleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Thuringia, and Berlin took part in the 150-question poll, which was also supported by the German Hunter's Association (DJV), the SDW association for the protection of German forests, and the IMA.
The 2010 study was the sixth since 1997.