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Journal article

Beliefs and education for sustainability in rural and regional Australia

1 Jan 2011

Few studies have investigated pre-service teachers' beliefs and their knowledge of Education for Sustainability (EfS). Where they have, their perceptions of EfS and the instrumentality of their actions have not been linked to their knowledge of EfS. This matter is particularly important to prepare teachers to teach in Australian rural schools which urgently need teachers who reshape and re-construct rural identity to support its sustainability for the future. This paper focuses on the links between beliefs and knowledge about EfS in a group of first year pre-service teachers, in a regional Australian university, since it is considered that the value and acquisition of knowledge about EfS will be motivated by the beliefs one holds; beliefs about the instrumentality of one's actions, the value for and intention to teach EfS, and their evaluation of the future environmental health of local and more distant places on the planet. This proposition stems from Ajzen's Theory of Planned Behaviour (TOPB) which incorporates the variety of influences that are likely to impact upon intentions to behave in a particular way. The aim of the study was to inform the curriculum of teacher training for those specialising in primary and early childhood education in relation to EfS. This needs to align with the objectives that UNESCO set for Education for Sustainable Development, which focus on incorporating Sustainable Development into pedagogy and curricula from pre-school to university. A questionnaire based on prior research and the Organisation for Economic and Cooperative Development (OECD) (2009) survey of secondary students' environmental and geophysical science knowledge was used to ascertain first year pre-service teachers' knowledge of environmental sustainability and their beliefs. Results indicate that this sample of 97 first year pre-service teachers endorse the value and instrumentality of education for environmental sustainability, have confidence in being able to include education about sustainability in their teaching and intend to behave in a sustainable manner. Similarly, their confidence in their knowledge of environmental sustainability issues matches that of fifteen-year-old Australians surveyed by OECD, (2009). Their test performance on knowledge assumed to be acquired by all fifteen-year old Australians however highlighted significant gaps, and disparities between their confidence and knowledge, suggesting that their intentions to teach about sustainability might be unrealised if their knowledge base in sustainability education is not enhanced. These results need to be confirmed more extensively with Australian pre-service teachers, and preferably with recent graduate teachers. At present, they pose a challenge to universities training primary and early childhood pre-service teachers. This is because an espoused intention to teach EfS, confidence to teach EfS and the value for the instrumentality of education for sustainability, based on incomplete knowledge and pedagogy about sustainability education is likely to quickly evaporate, as Ajzen's Theory of Planned Behaviour (TOPB) predicts. To prevent this it must be supported by an engaging, supportive tertiary sustainability curriculum.

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