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Grade 9 learners’ views concerning the environment: a correlation study in Msunduzi and the Midlands, Kwazulu-Natal.

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Environmental justice is one of the leading principles infused throughout the National Curriculum Statement (NCS) Grades R-12 (DBE, 2011). The NCS places an emphasis on an active and critical approach to learning. Furthermore, the curriculum envisages learners that are able to use “scientific knowledge responsibly in the interest of ourselves, of society and the environment” (p. 9; emphases added). It is evident in all the specific aims of the learning area (Natural Sciences) that environmental awareness is encouraged (DBE, 2011). Additionally, there is a focus on the significance of affective objectives in the development of EE in South Africa (Reddy, 2011). This study sought to explore Grade 9 learners’ views concerning the environment. Three constructs – perceptions, attitudes and behaviour – were investigated as indicators of their (learners’) views. The theoretical framework for this study maintained that a balance between perceptions (education about the environment), attitudes (education in the environment), and behaviour (education for the environment) would lead to effective EE that could bring about attitude and behaviour changes for sustainable living. Furthermore, factors that shaped the learners’ views concerning the environment were explored. This study used an explanatory sequential mixed methods design. Quantitative data were collected through a survey of 354 Grade 9 learners in Msunduzi and the Midlands, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, to establish their views concerning the environment. The second qualitative phase collected in-depth data through open-ended questions and from six individuals taking part in a focus group interview. The two sets of data were integrated to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the sample of Grade 9 learners’ views concerning the environment. The quantitative findings indicated that Grade 9 learners in the sample had high perceptions (M = 4.16 [out of possible 5]) and lower attitudes (M = 3.76) concerning the environment. The findings also showed lowest scores in terms of the learners’ behaviour (M = 3.61) concerning the environment. The quantitative data further suggested a significant correlation between learners’ perceptions and their attitudes (r = 0.56) concerning the environment, as well as between their attitudes and behaviour (r = 0.60). However, the low correlation between the learners’ perceptions and behaviour (r = 0.33) could show the low impact that merely increasing environmental knowledge has on behaviour. This study further indicated the importance of the affective domain in altering behaviour concerning the environment. The qualitative data revealed some of the significant influences our learners respond to in relation to forming their environmental views, for instance the use of media, education in the environment for actual observations of their surroundings, and the influence of significant persons as role models. These could be incorporated in EE to better engage learners with content concerning the environment. The overall results suggested that Grade 9 learners in this study had positive perceptions concerning the environment, compared to less positive attitudes and virtually negative behaviour. The findings from this study could be used by teachers and policymakers to better incorporate ESD principles and improve EE praxis with Grade 9 learners in South African schools.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.