Fostering environmental competencies through knowledge acquisition: Insights into environmental education on forest ecosystems
Upcoming generations will have to deal with enormous challenges in terms of sustainable natural resource management. Consequently, environmental education has become a major focal point during the past decades aiming to sensitize young students. Students’ environmental competencies are influenced by several factors, but a main determinant appears to be cognitive knowledge regarding environmental issues. However, this cognitive knowledge has to be turned into positive environmental competencies in daily life. Hence, a detailed understanding on factors influencing students’ environmental competencies is needed to foster a sustainable use of natural resources. We investigated cognitive knowledge implementing 36 questions, subdivided into three knowledge types (system Sys, action-related Act and effectiveness knowledge Eff) all related to nature- and wildlife conservation in temperate forest ecosystems. Additionally four established scales indicating environmental competencies, namely 1) general ecological behaviour (GEB), 2) major environmental values (2-MEV), which is separated into two subscales, namely preservation and utilization, 3) appreciation towards nature (APP) and 4) inclusion in nature in one´s self (INS) were used. We used path analyses to investigate the relation between all eight variables (GEB, Preservation, Utilization, APP, INS, Sys, Act, Eff). Data analyses was performed with R (version 3.1.2) using a general structural equation model by means of the function “sem” (package sem).
In our study 301 6th to 8th graders participated in completing questionnaires. In total 16 of overall 27 possible pathways displayed significant relations. Primarily system and effectiveness knowledge were identified to be fundamental variables to foster environmental competencies. Moreover all three knowledge types were positively related to each other (p>0.01) as well as three of the environmental competencies, appreciation towards nature (APP), preservation (2-MEV) and ecological behaviour (GEB) (all p<0.001). Interestingly preservation in combination with GEB revealed significant (p<0.01) positive effects to all the three knowledge types. Due to the fact that a direct change of attitudes like APP, GEB, Preservation and INS is a long lasting process the task of education can foster these competencies through focussing on knowledge transfer. For this reason knowledge achievement could lead indirectly to positive environmental competencies like nature friendly attitudes or behaviour. Hence, a positive change in environmental competences of students can be promoted indirectly through improving knowledge of nature conservation issues.