- The purpose of the study was to survey aspects of environmental
knowledge and beliefs among Grade 10 students in Australia, in the
belief that such information would be useful for workers in the developing
field of environmental education there.
A survey instrument prepared and used for a similar purpose in
the USA was used in the study, after adaptation to suit the Australian
situation. The new instrument contained 40 items in two areas called
"knowledge" and "beliefs." One of the 30 items in the knowledge
section was designed to trace the major source of student information
about the environment, while one of the 10 belief items concerned perceived
local problems. Best responses were identified for each of the
29 multiple choice knowledge items, while a selected panel of environmentalists
and educators provided a common reference point for the
nine remaining belief items, so that a composite attitude measure
could be obtained. This reference point was that of an attitude favoring
the preservation of homo sapiens.
In modifying the original instrument, the SMOG grading was
used to ensure that the readability of the final instrument was at the
Grade 10 level.
From a two-stage sampling method in which the first stage
(secondary schools) was drawn with a probability proportional to
size, 174 schools were asked to each provide 30 students who would
complete the instrument. Within each of the six Australian states,
all school types (Government, Catholic and Independent) were represented
in the proportion of their Grade 10 populations.
The collected student responses were analyzed by standard
computer programs, with comparisons being made with respect to the
independent variables of state of residence, school type, region
(metropolitan or not), sex and membership of a self-identified group
derived from responses to the "major source of environmental
For item by item comparisons, chi-square measures were used
to investigate hypotheses that the frequency of correct knowledge
responses, or of agree-with-panel belief responses was the same for
each group within the independently variable sample populations. In
an attempt to avoid spurious significances, and to emphasize practical
differences, a confidence level of 0.001 was chosen.
Analysis of variance procedures were applied to the means of
total knowledge and total attitude scores. The same confidence level
was used again. Findings
Of the 174 schools approached, 160 or 92% replied positively,
providing the responses of 4821 students.
A general examination of the responses revealed a number of
areas of knowledge inadequacy. The composite attitude displayed was
one which could be regarded as supportive of measures designed to
preserve the species homo sapiens. Responses to several items suggested
that such positive and general attitudes might not be stable when
individual conveniences or freedoms were threatened.
On an item by item basis, most differences in response were
associated with state of residence, with sex and with membership of
one of the self-identified "source of knowledge" groups.
When total scores were considered, differences in the knowledge
section were associated with sex and "source of knowledge." Males
gave superior responses to those from females in this section. In the
attitude section, differences were associated with school type, region
and with knowledge source, but not with sex.
Responses to the "source of information" item indicate that as
far as these students are concerned, schools are not yet providing
them with special environmental education courses which supply the
major component of their knowledge about environmental matters.
On the other hand, the very positive response of the schools to the
study is taken as an indicator that Australian secondary schools have
a high degree of interest in gaining information which could be useful
to them in future environmental education programming.