Environmental awareness among Serbian ten-year-olds

This research was completed in collaboration with Jelena Stanišić and Slavica Maksić.

Human activity is polluting the planet and changing the climate. We wondered what is predictive of environmental awarness – and interconnected network consisting of environmental knowledge, attitudes, values, and behavior – in primary school students, i.e., future adults that may want to exert change in the way we approach environmental questions. We used the data collected in the TIMSS 2019 project to investigate what predicts higher environmental awareness among fourth grade primary school students in Serbia (roughly 10 years old). TIMSS includes a number of questions that are part of the Environmental Awareness Scale developed by Yin and Foy. The image with the turtle that you see on this page comes from one such question in which the students were supposed to consider the dangers of plastic waste in oceans. We used data collected from 3,692 students. Besides their achievement on the Environmental Awareness Scale, we also considered a number of characteristics varying on the individual student level (e.g., the quality of their home resources for learning or the number of years spent in preschool programs), on the level of a class taught by the same teacher (e.g., teacher education level or how often they assign science homework), and on the level of the school the students go to (e.g., school discipline as reported by the principal or whether the school has a science laboratory or not).

The results showed that certain variables varying on the individual student level are the only ones predictive of their environmental awareness. Higher environmental awareness was related to better home resources for learning, higher parents’ expectations of the students education level in the future, lower parents’ rating (perception) of the quality of the school their child frequents, higher pre-school literacy and numeracy skills of the student (as reported by the parent), student’s confidence in their knowledge in Science topics, and student’s belief that Science lessons are useful. Interestingly, there were no differences between schools when individual student characteristics are taken into account. There were still some differences between groups of students taught by different teachers, but the teacher characteristics that we investigated were not predictive of these differences.

In sum, it seems that at the present moment schools have little impact on the development of environmental awareness in their students. Teachers have some, but we don’t know in what way. Student environmental awareness is instead predicted by their home environment, confidence, and understanding why the material they learn is important. We discuss these findings, including what schools might do to increase their impact on the ecological awareness level of their students, in this paper freely available in Serbian. There is also an English version of the paper that I can make available per request.