Asia-Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching, Volume 12, Issue 2, Article 5 (Dec., 2011)
Sibel OZSOY, Gokhan OZSOY and Hayriye Gul KURUYER
Turkish pre-service primary school teachers’ environmental attitudes: Effects of gender and grade level

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The developments in science and technology throughout the last 200 years are the reason for the raise in the life standards of human beings. With these developing life standards, the human population has increased exponentially. As a result, in today’s world, human beings are consuming natural resources faster and unconsciously to meet their excess needs. With the rising population’s pressure on the world’s natural resources, the nature has been affected negatively and environmental problems started to increase. Environmental problems the Earth is facing today such as global warming, air, water and soil pollution, destruction of rainforests, ozone layer depletion and loss of biodiversity, have reached an unprecedented scale and complexity in the world history (Dunlap, Van Liere, Mertig, Catton & Howell, 1992).

With the 19th century, human beings realized that consuming natural resources in an unplanned way causes degradation on environment and threatens the environment on which human beings’ existence depends. With the realization of the effects of environmental problems on human wellbeing, issues relating to environment, conservation and management have emerged on the world’s policy stage (Palmer, 2003). To determine the current situation of the planet Earth and find ways to solve the environmental problems and to prevent possible problems that may occur in the future many meetings have been held with the participation of attendees from different countries. In most of the international meetings many administrative and forensic precautions have been  taken to find solutions to the environmental problems. And also, for the application and achievement of these precautions, it is realized that there is a need for individuals who are knowledgeable about and conscious of the environmental concepts and also who show environmentally responsible behaviors. In all major conferences, the role of education as a fundamental tool to improve environmental situation of the Earth has been emphasized and the purpose, goals and principles of environmental education have been determined through these conferences (Scoullas & Malotidi, 2004).

‘International Working Meeting on Environmental Education in the School Curriculum’ held in 1970 at Nevada by International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) was the greatest landmark in the history of attempts to define the term ‘environmental education’ (Palmer, 2003). In this meeting the term ‘environmental education’ was defined and formulated as “the process of recognizing values and clarifying concepts in order to develop skills and attitudes necessary to understand and appreciate the inter-relatedness among man, his culture, and his bio-physical surroundings.” (IUCN, 1970, n.p.). The next major contribution was made in 1975, with the Belgrade Charter, which was the beginning framework for a global environmental education program. In this declaration a draft vision for environmental education was built up. The Belgrade Charter was the first international declaration to define objectives of environmental education. The charter identified six objectives for environmental education as; to create awareness, to acquire knowledge about environmental problems, to develop attitudes, values and behaviours that respect the environment, to acquire problem solving skills, to develop capabilities to assess situations, and to participate in implementing the solution to environmental problems (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO], 1975). Two years later, in 1977, in the Tbilisi Decleration the urgent need for worldwide environmental education was declared (UNESCO, 1977). As a result of the declaration, in conjunction with the United Nations Environment Programme [UNEP], a document that is including the roles, goals, objectives, characteristics and guiding principles of environmental education was published. According to the Tbilisi Declaration, environmental education has three primary goals: firstly “to foster a clear awareness of, and concern about, economic, social, political and ecological interdependence in urban and rural areas”, secondly, “to create new patterns of behaviour of individuals, groups and society as a whole towards the environment” and lastly, “to provide every person with opportunities to acquire the knowledge, values, attitudes, skills, and commitment needed to protect and improve the environment” (UNESCO, 1977, p.15). After the Rio Conference in 1992, in the 36th chapter of the Agenda 21, the term ‘education for sustainable development’ was defined. In the same document the question of how education should be for providing  sustainable development was discussed. In these conferences the ultimate goal of environmental education is expressed as ensuring that we should be able to live in a healthy and a sustainable world. To achieve this, environmental education seeks to “enhance a person’s understanding of natural world and to impact positively on attitudes, values and behaviours” and environmental education must develop an “environmentally literate and concerned citizenry who will relate to the natural world in a responsible and caring manner” (Wilson, 1994, p.5).

The global decisions taken in the international conferences will only fulfill its tasks if these decisions are supported by people who are environmentally aware and showing responsible behaviors towards environmental problems. It has been known that people’s irresponsible behaviours are one of the basic reasons of environmental problems. To solve the environmental problems, individuals should be aware of environmental problems and importance of reducing or eliminating these problems. Furthermore, individuals should have knowledge about environment and environmental problems, show positive attitudes toward environment and they should make an effort to show responsible behaviours toward environment.

Education is a crucial mean of providing values, attitudes, skills and behaviors for achieving sustainable development (Orr, 1994; UNESCO-UNEP, 1976, 1978, 1992, 1995). Environmental education should be a part of the lives of all people, and should start with preschool (UNESCO, 1977). Environmental education provided in primary schools should focus on improving children’s environmental knowledge, attitudes and behaviour. As Wilson (1994) states “helping young children grow in their understanding and appreciation of the natural world…has the potential of enhancing the human-earth relationship” (p.23). Improving children’s environmental attitudes are particularly important because as the scientists, policymakers, consumers and voters of the future, they will be responsible for providing solutions to environmental problems arising from today’s actions.

Teachers are the key actors to form an environmentally informed, committed and active citizenry [World Commission on the Environment and Development (WCED), 1987]. As Wilke (1985) stated “the key to successful environmental education is the classroom teacher. If teachers do not have the knowledge, skills or commitment to environmentalise the curriculum, it is unlikely that environmentally literate students will be produced by our schools” (p.63). Turner et. al. (2003) argued that teachers will provide students who are environmentally literate when they are themselves environmentally knowledgeable, have positive attitudes towards the environment and show concern for environmental problems. Thus, inadequate teacher training will cause problems in the implementation of environmental education in primary school (Cutter & Smith, 2001; Disinger & Howe, 1990; Gabriel, 1996; Knapp, 2000; McKeown-Ice, 2000; Spork, 1992; UNESCO, 1977). Therefore, determining and improving pre-service teachers’ environmental knowledge, their environmentally responsible behaviors and their attitudes toward environment is one of the major challenges which environmental education faces today.

Over the past 20 years, researchers have explored in-service and pre-service teachers’ attitudes toward environment using various types of national surveys (Esa, 2010; Oerke & Bogner, 2010; Taylor, Doff, Jenkins & Kennelly, 2007; Than, 2001; Watson & Halse, 2005). There are also several studies conducted to measure and analyze Turkish pre-service teachers environmental attitudes (Erol & Gezer, 2006; Sama, 2003; Tuncer, Sungur, Tekkaya & Ertepinar, 2007). In their study Erol and Gezer investigated primary school pre-service teachers’ attitudes toward environment and how gender and socio-economic properties affect their attitudes. In their study, researchers found that gender is one of the demographic characteristics affecting environmental attitudes. Researchers reported that there is a significant difference between female and male pre-service teachers in favor of females. Additionally researchers found that pre-service teachers’ attitudes improve with increasing age. Besides, they found that some demographic characteristics such as father’s and mother’s graduation level, father’s occupation, enrolling an environmental education course do not affect pre-service primary school teachers’ attitudes toward environment. In another study, Sama investigated pre-service teachers’ attitudes toward environmental problems. In the study 442 pre-service teachers attending different departments of education faculty participated in the study. The researcher applied 22-item Likert type questionnaire to determine participants’ environmental attitudes. Sama reported that gender, father’s graduation level, father’s occupation and income levels are affecting pre-service teachers’ attitudes toward environmental problems. Additionally, Tuncer, Sungur, Tekkaya and Ertepinar (2007) conducted a research to compare pre-service teachers’ and elementary school students’ attitudes toward environment. The researchers collected the data of the study from 1 235 elementary school students from different grade levels and 334 pre-service teachers by a 45-item ‘Environmental Attitude Questionnaire’ consisting of four dimensions; awareness of environmental problems, national environmental problems, solutions to the problems and awareness of individual responsibility. In the study researchers found that although pre-service teachers had significantly higher environmental attitudes than elementary school students both groups got moderate scores from the instrument.

The present  study focuses on Turkish pre-service primary school teachers’ attitudes toward environment and presents the results of the data obtained from a questionnaire applied nationwide. There are several reasons why authors of this study collected and analyzed Turkish primary school pre-service teachers’ environmental attitudes. First, related literature revealed that there is a positive correlation among environmental knowledge, environmental attitudes and environmentally responsible behaviours. Furthermore attitude is a very important factor influencing behaviour (Newhouse, 1990). They can easily be used to predict behaviours. Since it would be very difficult to observe whether pre-service primary school teachers’ show environmentally responsible behaviours, we preferred to determine their environmental attitudes. We believe that although focusing on environmental attitudes, the results of this study will provide clues for pre-service teachers’ environmentally responsible behaviours. Second, we chose primary school teachers as a sample of this study because we strongly believe that especially primary school teachers have influence on shaping children’s environmental attitudes and the quality of environmental education in primary schools depend on primary school teachers’ awareness about and attitudes toward environment (Than, 2001). The reason for choosing pre-service teachers’ is to determine whether environmental education is given effectively at teacher education programmes.With this respect, in the present study answers were sought to the following questions:

1. What are primary school pre-service teachers’ environmental attitudes?
2. Are there differences between male and female pre-service teachers’ attitudes toward environment?
3. Are there differences among pre-service teachers attending different grade levels with respect to
 their environmental attitudes?


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