THE effective integration of environmental education in local schools hinge on a few core staff to drive sustainable projects as well as the engagement of student’s opinions, according to a UWA researcher.
UWA School of Education PhD candidate Zarin Salter is investigating the impacts of whole-school education with pro-environmental knowledge as part of her thesis and conducted case studies on three Perth primary schools to support her work.
Ms Salter studied co-educational government schools in Leeming and Dianella and a private girl’s school in Mosman Park and found that the extent to which student behaviours carried into their home life depended on the parents pre-existing interest in the environment.
“School wide sustainability education can influence a child’s interest in environmental topics and their motivation to care for the environment,” Ms Salter says. “But the extent that these messages and behaviours carry into the child’s home life is mediated by the receptivity and degree of pre-existing interest of their parents.
“This research suggests that the school can be a catalyst for those parents who are interested in environmental topics and practices but not actively practicing them at home, or those parents who are interested and already active but are keen implement more complex behaviours at home.”
Ms Salter says she picked the Leeming and Mosman Park schools because of their involvement with the Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative (AuSSI) which is part of a national effort to support schools to embed sustainability within their respective culture.
The school in Dianella was not involved with any environment initiatives at the commencement of the study.
The initial study results indicated that an effective school sustainability program requires bold but sensitive management with a few core staff to organise projects and to allow time for the program to integrate into class and school life.
It also found students from the two sustainability schools were proportionately more knowledgeable about pro-environmental behaviours than students from the school in Dianella.
Ms Salter conducted surveys and used mind maps to collect data from students and conducted interviews and observations with principals, teachers and parents.
“I didn’t actually experiment or create any change, I was interested in observing what was going on in the school already, documenting and then measuring the attitudes, knowledge and behaviour of the students,” she says.
She says the Mosman Park school had also connected with a local not-for-profit organisation called Millennium Kids to run sustainability engagement workshops with students and teachers.
“So their coaching of the school provided a whole other layer of information about how schools that want to adopt a sustainability approach can potentially be more successful in walking down that path,” Ms Salter says.