Perceptions of environmental sustainability held by students in a NSW primary school

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The study aims to produce an insight into how young children perceive environmental sustainability and poses the research question: What perceptions of environmental sustainability do primary school students, in their final years of primary education, hold and express? Existing research (Phipps, 1991; Spork, 1992; Walker, 1995; Walker, 1997) indicates that the most significant work in environmental education in NSW is being done at the primary school level. However, evidence relating to the research question is limited. Therefore, it is important to gather and analyse data about these perceptions of primary school students if we are to develop and implement sustainability education curricula that best support the needs of students, is relevant to primary school teaching and learning, and provides insight into appropriate strategies for the professional development of teachers. The study involves students in their final years of primary school education and explores their perceptions of environmental sustainability. It provides insight into how their perceptions are informed and how they may be best nurtured. The data are gathered from primary school students in Years 4, 5 and 6 and their teachers in one NSW primary school. Qualitative methods are used to collect data. These include students responding to three differing types of stimulus material using an open-ended questionnaire, focus group discussions, and individual interviews. The data are gathered using methodology that is influenced by Grounded Theory and analysed with reference to the existing literature. The conclusions report that the students in the study most frequently express notions of sustainability that are underpinned by homocentric views of sustainability; proximate cause and effect scenarios; and, proposed actions based on sharing natural resources fairly while maintaining the environmental balance and behaving responsibly. Finally, an emerging framework of primary school students’ notions of environmental sustainability is presented and discussed along with the implications for sustainability curricula.
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