Students' Views of the Environment

Loughland, Tony, Reid, Anna, & Peter Petocz. Young People's Conceptions of Environment: a phenomenographic analysis. Environmental Education research, Vol. 8, no. 2, 2002.(U.S.)

Environmental education is important in achieving environmental improvement. However, for students to construct accurate information instruction must be based on the children’s understandings rather than on assumptions of what we think they know and believe.

Asked student - I think the term/word environment means...

Object focus

  • The environment is a place.
  • The environment is a place that contains living things.
  • The environment is a place that contains living things and people.

Relational focus

  • The environment does something for people.
  • People are part of the environment and are responsible for it.
  • People and the environment are in a mutually sustaining relationship.


Loughland, Tony et. Al. Factors Influencing Young People's Conceptions of Environment Environmental Education Research, Vol. 9, No. 1, 2003.(Australia)

Asked student - I think the term/word environment means ...

Answers can be classified into two general categories:

  1. Environment as an object
  2. Environment as a relation

The second is preferable with the most inclusive being environment and people in a relationship of mutual care.

    • Young children are six times more likely to report a relational view with the idea that the environment contributes to their well being as they contribute to the environment’s well being, than students in secondary schools.
    • The next most significant difference is with girls being 1.5 times more likely than boys to have a relational view.
    • A mixture of social and environmental concerns were most likely to show a relational view with the least likely being those that picked all environmental and no social concerns.
    • A positive relationship of 1.25 existed between students that had a relational view and being more optimistic on an optimism/neutral/pessimist scale.


Understanding of environmental knowledge, was not a significant factor, for those in high school, but was for those in primary school.


The instruction in the primary grades may be more integrated while the instruction in the secondary is more directed toward biology topics such as polluted streams…

Suggested recommendations?

Must view that social global concerns are related to the environment and work to reduce the following:

Problematic Views to Environmental Education?

Environmental education is viewed as belonging to a biology class or geography.

Animals are to be organized into hierarchies.

Plants and animals are regarded as pets or pests.

Nature is a scenic view on television, contained in parks and nature preserves, and sometimes viewed through the window.

Consumerism, materialism, economic gain, and individualism as cultural icons.

Standards created around disciplines reducing integration of curriculum

Industry as partners.