Date of Award

2014

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Education

Faculty

Education and Arts

First Advisor

Dr G Lummis

Second Advisor

Associate Professor G Lock

Abstract

In late 2011, the researcher investigated a cohort of Western Australian (WA) Graduate Diploma of Education Primary (GDE-P) students’ perceptions of Sustainability across a broad range of biophysical/natural, social and cultural, economic and political spheres. The study occurred during the seventh year of UNESCO’s Decade of Education for Sustainability Development, and when Sustainability Education became one of three cross-curriculum priorities of the new Australian Curriculum. Importantly, the students’ perceptions were interpreted during the context of the Post Global Financial Crisis and after Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd as the Labor Prime Minister. The intense political context was often supported by controversial media debates covering a range of themes linked to Sustainability: Climate Change, the introduction of a carbon tax, global economics, population and the refugee crisis associated with the Christmas Island detention policy.

The researcher sought to use an explanatory mixed methods approach for the investigation. However, measuring GDE-P students’ perceptions of Sustainability through a quantitative instrument proved to be unreliable and the researcher focused on interpretivist-constructivist qualitative methods. Subsequently, rich feedback from 18 students was obtained using semi-structured interviews that linked to both UNESCO’s definition of Sustainability and associate themes within the Australian political debate. The research findings underscore the multitude of factors that frame perceptions of the term Sustainability and the subjectivity that even well educated people encounter when dealing with this global priority. In addition, the research emphasises the need for its inclusion in pre-service teacher training, supported by ongoing professional learning for both pre-service and established primary teachers. It is vital teachers are aware of the complex themes within Sustainability as a key multimodal literacy and cross-curriculum priority in the emerging Australian Curriculum.

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