Measuring primary school students' environmental literacy in urban China : environmental attitudes and behavior of grade 6 students in green schools in Shenzhen

中國城市小學生環境素養研究 : 以深圳市綠色學校六年級學生的環境態度與行為為例

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Lingqiong WU


Awarding Institution
Award date15 Jul 2013


School-based environmental education in China germinated in the late 1970s and has now been institutionalized as an integral element of basic education in China. In 2003, the Central government released the first national curriculum standard for environmental education, in which the overall goal of school-based environmental education is stated as being "to foster among students knowledge of and skills in, a value of, and emotions, attitudes and responsible behavior towards the environment and sustainable development". To meet these ends, the Central government has promoted various environmental education initiatives. Among these, the Green School Program represents the most widely implemented initiative in this regard. However, due to the interdisciplinary nature of environmental education, environmental educators face huge challenges in achieving their goals. Two critical issues have attracted substantial attention from the international environmental education community. On one hand, there is the question of, in theory, what sort of environmental education programs are effective for fostering students' environmental literacy (including knowledge, attitudes, skills, and behavior)? On the other hand, there is the question of how successful the current practices of environmental education are in achieving their goals, and what factors actually influence students' environmental literacy? Unfortunately, in the Chinese environmental education community, little attention has been paid to the latter issue. The research addresses this deficiency by providing an initial attempt to measure the outcomes of environmental education in primary schools in China from the perspective of environmental literacy. It first explores the nature and objectives of environmental education in the primary school curriculum by employing a six-component framework of environmental literacy in light of an analysis of the content of two national guidelines for school-based environmental education, and the curriculum standards for Chinese (Grades 1-6), Morality and Life (Grades 1-2), Morality and Society (Grades 3-6), and Science (Grades 3-6). This research then developed and validated an assessment instrument for measuring two general environmental literacy components in Grade 6 students in China: environmental attitudes and environmental behavior. This research also takes a step further by adopting this assessment instrument, which is called the Primary School Environmental Attitudes and Behavior Scale (PSEABS), to investigate the actual state of environmental attitudes and behavior, as well as the relationships between the two, in Grade 6 students in Shenzhen. The survey questionnaire distributed to 422 students from eight green schools in Shenzhen reveals impressive levels of environmental attitudes (including environmental sensitivity, environmental beliefs, environmental norms and pro-environmental intentions) among the respondents. It also reveals that the respondents engage in a considerable range of environmental behavior regarding resource conservation, disposable waste reducing, and waste recycling overall. Yet, the ambiguous attitude of the respondents toward the role of human ingenuity suggests that mature beliefs about human-environment relationships may not yet have been fostered among Grade 6 students in the green schools in Shenzhen. The relationships between the students' environmental attitudes and their pro-environmental behavior were explored using regression analyses. It shows that environmental sensitivity and pro-environmental intentions significantly affected pro-environmental behavior. It also supports the theoretical relationships among beliefs, norms, and behavior in Stern's (2000) Value-Belief-Norm model: the effect of environmental beliefs on pro-environmental behavior is mainly mediated by environmental norms whose relationship to pro-environmental behavior is mainly governed by pro-environmental intentions. These results suggest that students' emotional attachment to nature and behavioural intentions are two critical factors determining their pro-environmental behavior. These data also suggest that their pro-environmental behavior as well as pro-environmental intentions are activated by their environmental norms and mediated by fundamental beliefs about human-nature relationships.

    Research areas

  • Shenzhen Shi, Environmental protection, China, Social surveys, Environmental education, Attitudes, School children