Measuring Changes in Children’s Environmental Attitudes
“Children are one third of our population and all of our future.”
The attitudes of children are a major focus of many environmental education campaigns. The development of positive and environmentally sensitive attitudes in youth is important in determining behaviour in later life.
The article “Factors Influencing Children’s Environmental Attitudes’ by Eagles and Demare discusses the change in environmental attitudes of year 6 students after attending a week long residential camp that aimed to improve environmental attitudes.
The two major types of environmental attitudes that the Sunship project aimed to improve were ecologistic and moralistic attitudes.
Ecologistic Attitude: Concern for the environment as a system, for interrelationships between wildlife and natural habitats.
Moralistic Attitude: Concern for the right and wrong treatment of the environment, with strong opposition to exploitation and unsustainable practices.
Sunship Earth: Project Goals
The goal of this study was to improve the environmental attitudes of children through involvement in a week long residential program. The Sunship Earth project goals relating to each of these attitude categories were as follows:
Ecologistic Attitude Goal: To develop a basic comprehension of the major ecological systems and communities of the planet.
Moralistic Attitude Goal: To develop a commitment to actions that encourage a more stable and harmonious relationship with the earth.
How Project Effectiveness was Evaluated
The effectiveness of the Sunship Earth program was evaluated by giving each child a pre-test survey one week before their participation in the camp program, and an identical post-test survey a week after their return from the camp.
The survey contained 11 questions on ecologic attitudes, 8 questions on moralistic attitudes and 11 questions on other attitudes. Only the questions on ecologic and moralistic attitudes were used in the evaluation.
Each question contained an attitude statement and required the student to choose one of five categories: strongly agree, agree, don’t know, disagree, and strongly disagree. Each of the attitude questions had an assigned score ranging from 1-5, with 5 representing the strongest agreement with the expressed attitude. Each student was given a summary mean of the numerical score for each of the two attitude groups.
The change in children’s attitudes was measured by comparing the group mean averages for the positivity of ecologistic and moralistic environmental attitudes.
The Sunship Earth program was found to be ineffective in changing children’s ecologic and moralistic attitudes towards the environment. There was no statistically significant attitude change after the program for either ecologistic or moralistic attitudes. The pre-test and post test scores for ecologic and moralistic attitudes were:
The evaluation of attitude change of any type is inherently extremely difficult. However, children’s attitude changes in this study could have been more closely examined.
The evaluation used only closed questions (qualitative research). Some open ended questions (qualitative research) could have been beneficial – especially in the second survey. Open ended questions can provide important information the survey writer has not taken into account.
It would have been ideal to also measure attitude changes indirectly through measuring behaviour changes. For example, measuring changes in the rate of recycling within a given area. However, this is very difficult to do with a small group of people.
One of the reasons that behavioural measurement can be a superior indicator of attitude compared to survey data is that people are regularly less than truthful when completing surveys – including children. People have a tendency to portray themselves in a more favourable light than their thoughts or actions. This is a problem that severely affects the validity of statistics derived from surveys. People often engage in ‘impression management’ which is “a conscious, active and deliberate attempt to fake good behaviour in front of a real or imagined audience” or ‘self-enhancement’, which is “a spontaneous tendency to present an internalised, unrealistically positive view of the self”.
Another reason behavioural measurement can a better indicator of attitude than survey data is that it has been shown that simply the process of being involved in an educaiton program prompts people to feel that they should have changed thier attitudes to some extent, even if they tryly haven’t – this is often evident in the results of survey data.
Overall, the evaluation used in this project was sufficient, but I think it could have been improved by: including open ended questions in the survey; and measuring attitude changes though behaviour changes in addition to the analysis of survey data.
Eagles, PFJ and Demare, R. 1999. Factors influencing children’s environmental attitudes, The Journal of Environmental Education. 30 (4): 33- 37.