Education for Sustainability: An Investigation of Teachers' and Students' Perceptions and Experiences
Chalmers, J. (2011). Education for Sustainability: An Investigation of Teachers’ and Students’ Perceptions and Experiences (Thesis, Master of Education (MEd)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10289/5957
Permanent Research Commons link: http://hdl.handle.net/10289/5957
Human activity and the mismanagement of this generation and the previous, has resulted in large-scale environmental and social damage associated with climate change, ecosystem destruction, resource depletion and pollution (Littledyke, Taylor & Eames, 2009). This has caused concern for the future of our planet, and it is this concern that introduced Environmental Education/Education for Sustainability (EE/EFS) in the 1960s and 1970s. EE/EFS has been shaped by international conferences and publications to reach the notable status that it currently holds today. The New Zealand Curriculum (Ministry of Education 2007) stopped short of mandating EE/EFS, but ‘sustainability’ is woven throughout the document, offering potential for EE/EFS to be effectively expressed in teaching and learning. This qualitative study sought to obtain rich qualitative data to investigate and gain a better insight into the EE/EFS learning experiences currently taking place in five Bay of Plenty primary classrooms. It explored the perceptions that were held by teachers and students participating in EE/EFS. The methods used for data collection included interviews, observation and questionnaires. The study found evidence to suggest that teachers and students lacked a general understanding of the terms ‘environment’ ‘EE/EFS’ and ‘sustainability’, and their views of these concepts were predominantly ecological in nature. A gap between what current research and literature on EE/EFS stipulates, and what was known by the teachers in this study, was clearly apparent. Teachers had received very little, if any tertiary education or professional development in EE/EFS, and therefore, although more specialised views exist amongst educators and specialists of the area, the teachers had not been well introduced to the current trends and issues in EE/EFS, and therefore, relied on their ‘lay’ understandings. Waste management and recycling activities, were the topics most frequently focused on within each of the schools, and activities appeared to address the symptoms of the waste issues rather than focusing on underlying causes or the wider issue. Examples of education ‘For’ the environment were generally absent. Barriers to EE/EFS existed, with challenges in its implementation most commonly mentioned by teachers being time limitations. The value of teachers’ personal passion and enthusiasm for EE/EFS was highlighted in this study, and as EE/EFS remains non-mandatory, its future relies on teachers with this personal interest. This study’s findings suggest that quality professional development is needed, both conceptual and pedagogical, as students and teachers had limited understandings of EE/EFS. Universal, clearly stated guidelines, containing information about the contemporary focus of EE/EFS should be introduced and presented to teachers, as although there are supporting resources and literature available, they were not being accessed by the teachers in this study. The implementation and development of whole school approaches to EE/EFS should continue to be encouraged, and school leaders need to play a part in initiating this. Therefore, support for school leaders may be needed to encourage collaborative EE/EFS initiatives to take place in schools.
University of Waikato
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