30 SES 07 A, Pedagogical perspectives on teaching and learning in ESE
Paper/Ignite Talk Session
It is widely agreed among scientists from various disciplines that human population growth (PG) dramatically contributes to the environmental crisis and plays a major factor in the damage caused to environmental resources as well as to degradation in the quality of life and well-being of people around the world (Robertson, 2012). The implications of the ecological consequences caused by PG relate to every aspect of life and pose a threat to the survival of mankind (Motesharrei et al., 2014). Scientists agree that there are limits to the earth’s carrying capacity and that the global ecosystem cannot sustain burgeoning populations and high consumption of finite natural resources (Bandura, 2002).
Despite this urgency to address PG as a severe problem, it is mostly absent from worldwide public discourse, as well as from national agendas and policies institutions around the world. There are several reasons for this; the first being that PG is considered, among other environmental issues, to be complex and controversial in nature, involving conflicting values and interests. Similar to other controversial environmental issues, PG is poorly understood by the general public, and even scientists argue and debate about the cause-effect characteristics of this topic as an environmental problem (Cotton, 2006). The limited understanding of the public regarding the implications on humankind and on the environment leads people to fail to make the connection between PG and environmental degradation (Howel, 1992). Other reasons for the absence of PG in the public discourse relate to sociocultural and religious attributes. Controlling PG stands in strong conflict with the religious faith and certain sociocultural norms in various societies that encourage high birth rate and the creation of large families (Kulczycki, 2013).
Researchers who do recognize the necessity to include PG in the public discourse are calling for PG to be addressed through the education system, seeing it as playing a central role in changing society’s perceptions, attitudes and behavior (Stevenson, 2007). They claim that the education system could change learners’ attitudes towards PG through increasing their awareness regarding PG as a problem and improving their knowledge of its cause-effect characteristics. These researchers see PG as a necessary topic to address in the education system among other environmental problems, such as global climate change (GCC), which are also not well understood and rarely included in the public discourse.
In this study, we compared the perspectives of teachers from two groups: E-teachers who have an academic background in environmental-oriented programs and non-E teachers who have an academic background in non-environmental-oriented programs. We assumed that the E-teachers who have been constructively exposed to the topic of PG during their studies will be more aware of its impact on the environment and on human quality of life, and more willing to include this topic in school teaching and their competence to do so will be higher in comparison to non-E-teachers. In line with this assumption, we asked the following questions: 1) Do teachers perceive PG as an environmental problem, and do E- and non-E teachers differ in their perceptions?; 2) What are teachers’ considerations for bringing any environmental topic into the classroom?; and 3) How do E- and non-E teachers perceive embedding the issue of PG into their teaching, and what are their considerations concerning including or excluding this topic in the classroom? This study is pioneering in the sense that, to our knowledge, the perceptions of the lay public towards PG as an environmental problem have never been explored; neither have the perceptions of educators towards PG and their attitudes towards including this topic in school teaching.
This study is a mixed-methods research. 200 in-service teachers participated in this study: 90 E-teachers and 110 non-E-teachers. All the participants have backgrounds in education studies and hold teaching certificates in specific fields. All of them have served as educators in elementary and/or secondary schools in the public school education system in Israel. To get a rich picture, we used two sources of data: Questionnaire – The questionnaire addressed teachers’ perspectives towards PG as an environmental problem and their considerations regarding embedding specific environmental topics in their teaching, including PG. It included the following five questions; two closed and three open-ended: 1) Do you perceive population growth as an environmental problem? 2) Explain why you perceive or do not perceive population growth as an environmental problem; 3) If you include environmental topics in your teaching, explain what your considerations are for choosing the topics to bring into the classroom; If you do not include environmental topics in your teaching, explain what would be your considerations to include them in your teaching; 4) In your opinion, is it important to include population growth in school teaching? 5) Explain your attitude regarding including or excluding population growth in school teaching. Interviews – Semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight teachers (as described above) who completed the questionnaire. The interviews focused on teachers’ perspectives of PG as an environmental problem and their attitudes towards including or excluding the topic in their teaching. This added to the information that was gathered from the questionnaire. The interviewees were also asked to explain their attitudes and elaborate on the opportunities, as well as the challenges, that they envisaged concerning teaching the topic of PG. Using the information collected from the questionnaire, the researchers chose eight interviewees that would properly represent the whole sample of participants in terms of their sociodemographic background and types of perspectives towards the issue of PG. The interviews, which lasted about 45 minutes, were audiotaped and transcribed verbatim to allow an analysis of the full information. An inductive content analysis was conducted to identify emergent categories and major themes according to Strauss & Corbin (1994) regarding teachers’ responses to the three open-ended questions and to the interviews. The differences between the proportions of various themes among the E-teachers vs. the non-E teachers were analyzed using chi-square tests, in which the (two-sided) significance level was 0.05.
Our findings indicate that the E-teachers’ capability to view environmental issues through a “whole system” lens was greater, reflecting their higher systems thinking. This finding points to the need to develop systems thinking among non-E teachers as part of their teacher training in such a way that they can understand the strong relationship between the ecological and social components of systems in our world. Developing systems thinking concerning environmental problems is crucial for individuals’ abilities to solve real-world problems and make better informed decisions (Assaraf, Ben-Zvi & Orion, 2005). Our findings also point out that more than half of the teachers, regardless of their academic background, choose environmental topics to include in their teaching according to their suitability for developing students’ environmental citizenship. This finding is encouraging. Developing students’ environmental citizenship is a major goal of environmental education (UNESCO, 2015) and is considered a key for achieving sustainability. The percentage of the teachers who support including PG in their teaching was significantly higher among the E-teachers than the non-E teachers. These findings suggest that an academic background in environmental studies contributes to teachers’ motivation, willingness, and probably their teaching capacities and confidence, to include such a complex topic in their school teaching. However, similar concerns were reported by all the teachers in relation to engaging students in discourse around such a controversial issue, focusing on socio-cultural-political reasons. These challenges reflect the dominant Israeli national pronatalist ideologies and the sociocultural norms and religious values that encourage high birth rate. This reality highlights the need to assist teachers who are willing to include controversial environmental issues in their teaching but struggle to do that. This study is a first step in identifying educators’ perspectives concerning the issue of PG and their attitudes towards including this issue explicitly in the school curriculum.
Assaraf Ben Zvi, O., & Orion, N. (2005). Development of system thinking skills in the context of earth system education. Journal of Research in Science Teaching: The Official Journal of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, 42(5), 518-560. Bandura, A. (2002). Environmental sustainability by sociocognitive deceleration of population growth. In. The psychology of sustainable development. (pp. 209-238). P. Schmuch, W. Schultz ,Eds.; Kluwer: Dordrecht, the Netherlands. Cotton, D. R. (2006). Teaching controversial environmental issues: Neutrality and balance in the reality of the classroom. Educnational Reseach, 48, 223-241. Howell, S. E. & Laska, S. B. (1992). The changing face of the environmental coalition: a research note. Environmental Behavor, 24, 134-144. Kulczycki, A. (2013). World Population Policies: Their Origin, Evolution, and Impact. Population Studies, 67, 243-246. Motesharrei, S., Rivas, J. & Kalnay, E. (2014). Human and nature dynamics (HANDY): Modeling inequality and use of resources in the collapse or sustainability of societies. Ecological Economics, 90-102. Robertson, T. (2012). The Malthusian moment: global population growth and the birth of American environmentalism. Rutgers University Press. Stevenson, R. B. (2007). Schooling and environmental education: Contradictions in purpose and practice. Environmental Education Research, 13(2), 139-153. Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1994). Grounded theory methodology. Handbook of qualitative research, 17, 273-85. UNESCO (2015). Global citizenship education. Topics and learning objectives. Available at: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000232993.
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