Academic journal article Australian Journal of Environmental Education

Pre-Service Teachers' Knowledge, Participation and Perceptions about Environmental Education in Schools

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Environmental Education

Pre-Service Teachers' Knowledge, Participation and Perceptions about Environmental Education in Schools

Article excerpt

Our communities will only reach their potential as vibrant and healthy places when youth are welcomed as full participating members. (Warner, Langlois, & Dumond, 2010, p. 95)

The environmental challenges confronting the world today require active participation by all citizens. Finding ways to engage youth as full participants and leaders in environmental initiatives is critical to ensuring a more sustainable future. This article reports on the findings of a study that was undertaken in order to gain an understanding of the environmental knowledge held by pre-service teachers, their willingness to participate in environmental initiatives, and their perceptions about environmental education in schools. Specifically, the study looked at: (a) pre-service teachers' perceptions about their own level of environmental knowledge and their willingness to participate in environmental initiatives; (b) how they acquired environmental knowledge; and (c) the perceptions they have about how environmental awareness should be nurtured in school.

The idea to embark on this study was triggered by my professional observations that very few Bachelor of Education (undergraduate) pre-service teachers participated in the Environmental and Outdoor Education Club (EOEC) that was founded by a former student in 2009. I was invited to be the faculty advisor for the club when it started. During the first year of its inception, the total club membership consisted of only three pre-service teachers, who organised environmental action initiatives and invited other students to participate. At the beginning of each academic year, the club committee members hold a membership drive and plan environmental action initiatives for the year.

Despite the recruitment efforts and seemingly engaging activities that are planned, only a handful of pre-service teachers fully participate in the club activities each year. The following questions came to mind as I contemplated my observations of limited participation in the student-run environmental education club over the past 3 years:

1. Why are only a few pre-service teachers interested in participating in the EOEC activities?

2. What other environmental initiatives do pre-service teachers participate in?

3. Is participation or lack of participation related to pre-service teachers' levels of environmental knowledge?

4. What other factors influence pre-service teachers' level of commitment to participate in the EOEC or any other environmental activities?

In order to answer these questions, I designed and administered an online survey, followed by focus group interviews. All Bachelor of Education pre-service teachers who normally receive the invitation to participate in the EOEC were invited to participate in the study. Prior to describing the research methodology, I discuss existing literature and research central to the identified research area.

Environmental Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices of Pre-Service Teachers

Teachers play a key role in environmental literacy of future generations (World Commission on Environmental Development, 1987; McKeown & Hopkins, 2002) and they are most influential in educating children and teenagers to be future leaders in protecting the environment (Esa, 2010). Teachers are more likely to produce students who are more environmentally literate if they are more knowledgeable, have positive attitudes towards the environment, and show concern for environmental problems (Tuncer et al., 2009). If teachers lack proficiency in their environmental knowledge, skills and commitment, it is unlikely they will be able to effectively lead environmental change in schools (National Environmental Education Advocacy Council, 2005; Yavetz, Goldman, & Pe'er, 2014). Research has shown that inadequate incorporation of environmental education within Teacher Education programs is one of the obstacles to successful implementation of environmental education in schools (Cutter & Smith, 2001; McKeown & Hopkins, 2002; UNESCO, 1997; Yavetz et al. …

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