Learning for environmental stewardship in the Anthropocene: a study with young adolescents in the Wet Tropics

Thorne, Marcia (2017) Learning for environmental stewardship in the Anthropocene: a study with young adolescents in the Wet Tropics. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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The Anthropogenic emergencies of climate change, biodiversity loss and chemical pollution have resulted in a call for planetary stewardship from scientists and educators. Environmental stewardship in this research is defined as action that restores and/or maintains the integrity of a healthy Earth System. Through developing environmental stewardship, capacity is built for response to the complex, unprecedented and uncertain conditions of the 21st Century, the Anthropocene. Environmental stewardship is a learned behaviour developed from informal and formal mentoring and through opportunities to enact an ethic of care for the natural environment. There are few published research studies either internationally or in Australia about the environmental stewardship capacity of Gen Z, the first generation of the Anthropocene. A 2013 Swiss study described this generation as apathetic about the natural environment and living in post-ecologism. But is such a finding true of Australian adolescents living in Tropical Queensland?

This doctoral research aimed to understand the expression of environmental stewardship in Gen Z in a formal, Year 10 state schooling context in the Wet Tropics region of Far North Queensland, Australia. Participants included five teachers and 126 students from three suburban high schools in Cairns and two high schools located in rural towns less than 80 kilometres from Cairns. A mixed methods research methodology following an explanatory, sequential research design was used, involving three phases of data collection interspersed with five stages of analysis. The first phase, a document study, analysed Australian Government education policy documents, frameworks, reports and curricula for the promotion of both environmental stewardship and sustainability (sustainability being the medium through which environmental stewardship is typically developed). The second phase of data collection used an online survey with three distinct sections. Section I of the online survey explored participants' values and used Schwartz's Portrait Values Questionnaire. Data were analysed using Karp's four hypotheses for pro-environmental behaviour. Section II of the online survey was based on a modified version of Milfont and Duckitt's Environmental Attitude Index. Data were analysed to determine attitudes of preservation or utilisation of the natural environment. Section III was authored by the researcher to understand environmental stewardship knowledge and action and school learning for environmental stewardship. The third phase of data collection involved one-on-one interviews with Year 10 teachers and small group interviews with Year 10 students to enable in-depth discussion about environmental stewardship, if learning to care for the natural environment should occur (and how), knowledge of and opinions about environmental challenges, and how participants viewed the future.

Findings show that environmental stewardship education is largely absent from education curriculum, policy documents and formal schooling, and that environmental stewardship capacities are undeveloped in participating students and teachers. Sustainability education had a very limited presence in the study schools at Year 10. Both Gen Z participants and their teachers demonstrated values that indicate pro-environmental behaviour. Teacher environmental attitudes were pragmatically positioned between preservation and utilisation of the natural environment whilst student attitudes were inclined to preserve the natural environment. Teachers expressed concern that students were ignorant of and apathetic about the natural environment, a sign of post-ecologism, and that environmental stewardship education should be included in formal education to enhance wellbeing. Students expressed a lack of knowledge about the ecological challenges of the Anthropocene and felt overwhelmed when discussing what they knew (and did not know) about current and future conditions. Many were untrusting of their peers' capacity to care and ability to respond. Students also indicated that environmental stewardship education should be included in school learning.

This research proposes environmental stewardship education develops well-being, scholastic performance, critical thinking and problem solving. Outcomes of this research include a learning for environmental stewardship conceptual framework.

Item ID: 53075
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Anthropocene, Cairns region, education, environmental education, environmental stewardship, Gen Z, high school students, natural environment, secondary school students, tropics, Wet Tropics
Date Deposited: 09 Apr 2018 05:48
FoR Codes: 13 EDUCATION > 1302 Curriculum and Pedagogy > 130202 Curriculum and Pedagogy Theory and Development @ 100%
SEO Codes: 93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9305 Education and Training Systems > 930501 Education and Training Systems Policies and Development @ 40%
93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9301 Learner and Learning > 930101 Learner and Learning Achievement @ 30%
93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9303 Curriculum > 930301 Assessment and Evaluation of Curriculum @ 30%
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