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Stronger together: Holistic learning through Education for Sustainability

Students in New Zealand secondary schools are more stressed and anxious about assessments than any other nation in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). There is also low engagement and enjoyment in learning leading to negative repercussions on behaviour, health and achievement. In previous studies, Education for Sustainability (EfS) has shown strong potential as an engaging and enjoyable education system, in ways that align with the values of the New Zealand Curriculum. It is possible that EfS could also have potential to reduce stress in secondary assessment and yet engage students to achieve. This piece of action research explored the student experience of learning through EfS using a theoretical framework drawn from Outdoor Learning, Place Responsive Education and Issues Based Education. The framework puts emphasis on student wellbeing, embedding confidence in students, engaging students in democracy and providing avenues for them to participate within their culture, society, environment and economy in a positive way. The framework was manifest in an intervention: a 10-day ‘Sustainability camp’ in the context of a local mining issue within the Kaimai-Mamaku Forest Park, New Zealand. On the camp were 13 Year 10 students (14-15 years old) and three teachers. An interpretive methodology was engaged to explore the student experiences and outcomes of the camp. The forms of data collection used were: pre-post questionnaires, a post focus group interview and participant observations. Data analysis consisted of collating, averaging and graphing data from the questionnaire and coding data from focus group interviews and observations into seven categories (Sustainability values, Sustainability intentions, Knowledge, Connection to place, Social connections, Engagement & Enjoyment of learning). Findings indicated that the intervention resulted in a stress free, enjoyable and engaging learning experience for students. An ethic of care for the area was indicated by many students, as was a connection to the place itself. Strong friendships were cultivated due to the breaking down of social barriers and the communal nature of camp living. Student knowledge of the context increased and achievement was retained at a high level. Sustainability Literacy increased in a number of areas and there was a marginal increase in Action Competence indicators. A worrying finding was that students commented on their low confidence in democracy within society. Ways to improve the student experience, student achievement, Sustainability Literacy and Action Competence via modifications to the intervention are put forth for the consideration of EfS practitioners.
Type of thesis
Wood, B. A. (2019). Stronger together: Holistic learning through Education for Sustainability (Thesis, Master of Education (MEd)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/12387
The University of Waikato
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