Eneken Metsalu

Students' environmental knowledge and decision-choices in 6th and 9th grade

Pedagogical Thesis 2005
Supervisor: researcher K. Pata


One aim of the current research was to find out what is the students knowledge about air contamination, water pollution and garbage problems and identify the most frequent misconceptions in 6th, 9th grades depending on age and gender. The second aim of the current research was to find out what are the basic school students choices of deciding how to solve the environmental problems.

This research was carried out in Tartu Kivilinna Gymnasium in March 2005. 220 students from 6th and 9th grades were questioned - five classes from 6th grades (103 students) and five from 9th grades (117 students). A two-part questionnaire was composed to conduct the research. The first part forms of three knowledge questions. Second part forms of 12 environmental decisions in two different ways: "Why we have to solve the problem?" and "How can we solve the problem?" Both ways to expose questions are represented on three topics, these are air contamination, water pollution and garbage problems. Each topic represents two decisions on global and local level. Under each decision the justifications of these arguments are presented which proceed from scientific, economical and juridical considerations, and ethical beliefs. Students had to choose only one justification, which they thought was the most important.

It was assumed that students knowledge in 9th grade is more comprehensive and scientific than in 6th grades where students solve problems considering the pragmatical aspects. It was also assumed that the amount of misconceptions should decrease in 9th grade, because students have obtained more knowledge about environmental problems. From research results it appeared that basic school students knowledge of different environmental problems is low. The knowledge about the greenhouse effect was the lowest in 6th and 9th grades. Basic school students explained mainly the causes and consequences of greenhouse effect instead of explaining the process itself. Better knowledge appeared about water pollution and garbage problems. Students chose mostly the scientific aspect when answering to the water pollution and garbage problem questions. Those choice types are related with studies at school, because textbooks involve prevalently scientific aspects, and therefore students answers to the questions primarly emphasise this aspect. 6th grades students preferred additionally to the scientific aspect frequently the ethical beliefs. In 6th and 9th grades equal number of misconceptions occured. In 6 th grade misconceptions were related with "Greenhouse and Sun" subject, where students explained the greenhouse effect through the greenhouse model. When basic school students reached to the 9th grade, the earlier misconception was replaced the "Holes in the ozone layer" subject. It was caused by the 8th grade textbook, were the new subject about holes in ozone layer was introduced. It can be concluded that the students bring to the learning process their misconceptions and the teachers cannot form right environmental knowledge without considering those misconceptions.

Secondly we assumed that 6th and 9th grade students solve global problems from scientific aspect (ecocentric ethics) and local problems from personal point of view (anthropocentric ethics). Important and suprising result was that to the global "Why we have to solve a problem?"guestion the students answered scientifically but economically to the "How we can solve a problem?" question. Students solved local problems scientifically in both types of questions. Exactly the same tendency was found in air, water and garbage themes. It can be concluded that basic school students solved global problems by proceeding ecocentric and anthropocentric ethics and local problems only by ecocentric way. Therefore our initial hypothesis did not find confirmation. We can also assume that solving an environmental problem depends on how to the question is introduced: "Why?", "How?" and global and local representations.

When comparing the part one and part two of the questionnaire influence students decision with each other, we found out criteria that often the students do not have knowledge about the environmental problems, but in spite of that they solve problems according to that aspect. Prevalently the students knowledge about environmental topics is scientific and the decisions are made by proceeding the scientific aspect. We can assume that if student does not have knowledge about the phenomenon, he solves the problem considering what is written in textbook which is prevalently scientific knowledge, but at the time the student may not understand the nature of the problem.

In conclusion, students knowledge reflect mostly one aspect and that is scientific. Therefore the teachers should introduce also economical, juridical and ethical aspects into teaching the environmental education, this would help to create the students consistent world-view. In school the misconceptions must also be emphasised more, because they influence students environmental attitudes and preferences.