Date of Award

1-1-2003

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Faculty

Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Professor Mark Hackling

Second Advisor

Professor Patrick Garnett

Abstract

The greenhouse effect (GHE) is a concern to everyone on this planet. To understand the GHE, students and citizens need an understanding of the chemical processes underlying this environmental phenomenon. Citizens need to be scientifically literate in relation to this phenomenon in order to participate in democratic decision-making and to take appropriate actions in their daily lives. As the GHE is a global issue it will require collective and individual actions to prepare for the likely climatic changes and to reduce the further impact of the GHE. This study focused on high school students' beliefs about, understandings of the GHE and their intentions to act in ways that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Aspects of the GHE that are taught in high school science were also investigated. The study was conducted in five schools each in Western Australia (Australia) and Kerala (India) and data were collected from 438 Year 10 and 12 students representing compulsory and post-compulsory stages of education in both states. Two hundred and thirteen students from Western Australia and 225 students from Kerala completed a questionnaire and a sample of students and heads of science were interviewed. A Propositional Knowledge Statement (PKS) was developed, which is a set of propositions that outline science concepts necessary for an understanding of the GHE in terms of its causes, effects, mechanism and actions that can be taken to reduce greenhouse gas emission. In this study the PKS is considered to be the essential knowledge necessary to interpret the GHE, to take appropriate environmental action, and to make informed decisions as a scientifically literate member of society. The questionnaire and interviews were based on the PKS. The study revealed that high school students strongly believe that the GHE is real and affecting the climate at present and will also affect it in the future. They consider that the GHE is a relatively important social issue and they believe that governments should conduct programmes to raise community awareness and enact strict laws to reduce the release of greenhouse gases. Students' understanding of the GHE is inadequate to make informed decisions and take appropriate environmental actions as a scientifically literate member of society. The majority of students and their families are already taking or are considering taking 10 accepted actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by household activities. The majority of students are not prepared to sacrifice their personal comforts or conveniences to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and they have strong reasons for that, however, they believe that governments should enact strict laws to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and should sign the Kyoto protocol. The GHE is not adequately represented in Western Australian and Kerala science and chemistry curricula. The heads of school science departments in Western Australia and Kerala consider that school science should do more to teach the GHE, as it is an important aspect of scientific literacy. An ideal scenario for students’ beliefs about, understanding of the GHE and commitments to take action that would enable individuals and communities to reduce greenhouse gas emission was developed based on the PKS and reports such as lPCC (2001), UNEP (2001), AGO (1999; 2000) and UN (1992). The actual scenario was based on the data from this study. The differences between ideal and actual scenarios were discussed and implications for improving education about the OHE were developed. Information about the curriculum and students' sources of information about the GHE, students' beliefs, understandings and intentions to act were mapped against the theory of reasoned action (Ajzen & Fishbein, 1980).

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