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The Primary School Factors that Shape the Environmental Knowledge, Attitudes, and Behaviours of Children

As environmental issues continue to threaten the safety and longevity of the world we live in, we turn to today’s children, handing the responsibility of the environment over to them in the hope that they will be better protectors of the environment than generations before them. But to ensure that children are capable of protecting the environment, it is vital to assess their environmental knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours, and the factors that influence these, so that adults can encourage children to be as sustainable as possible in an ever-polluted and degraded world. Humanity is accountable for an increasing number of environmental issues and disasters. We know about climate change, water and air pollution, plant and animal extinction, and the injustice and inequality that stem from these issues, yet we have not taken meaningful action. Why? Because the Western World is so dependent on their capitalist and consumeristic lifestyles, that any deviation from this is deemed unacceptable. We need to face the fact that lavish, materialistic lifestyles are not sustainable in a finite world. Our choices are either change our ways or doom the rest of humanity and the environment. This thesis is based on research conducted in two primary schools in Hamilton, New Zealand, which aimed to explore the environmental knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours of children, and what factors in primary schools affect these. Much literature exists on the relationship between children and the environment, yet literature lacks in areas pertaining to the influence of principals, school rules, extracurricular activities, and community resources. Existing literature looks at single influencing factors in isolation, while this research examines multiple factors to determine which ones are most important. The research was organised under a case study design, with schools being the case studies. Within the schools, the research involved observation, interviews, and document analysis, all of which were examined using thematic analysis. The results showed that people, specifically passionate teachers and principals, were one of two most powerful influences on children’s environmental knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours. Natural school grounds were the other most important factor, as they helped children to engage more deeply with nature, and make meaningful connections. School learning processes, rules and practices, extracurricular activities, and community resources also had significant effects on children’s environmental knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours. Children were found to have environmental knowledge about ethical principles, environmental issues, environmental facts, and sustainable actions. Ecocentric attitudes were largely evident amongst the children, such as sadness, guilt, or disappointment, but a small number expressed anthropocentric attitudes, mainly indifference towards the environment. It was positive that a number of children carried out environmentally friendly behaviours, such as picking up rubbish, encouraging peers not to litter, and getting involved in optional environmental groups. The main concluding recommendations were that schools should seek to employ teachers who are passionate about nature, school grounds should be natural and diverse wherever possible, children need to be empowered to act for the environment, and Enviroschool participation should be compulsory for all schools.
Type of thesis
McEwen, K. E. (2015). The Primary School Factors that Shape the Environmental Knowledge, Attitudes, and Behaviours of Children (Thesis, Master of Management Studies (MMS)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/9761
University of Waikato
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