Environmental Education in Singapore: An Analysis of Environmental Knowledge in the Lower Secondary Geography Curriculum, pp. 3 of 9

Different Dimensions of Environmental Knowledge

In order to understand the EK dimensions needed to achieve the goals of EE and of geography education, the works by Kaiser and Fuhrer (2003) and Jensen (2002) are found to be helpful in providing insights for the purpose of this study.

According to Kaiser and Fuhrer (2003), there are three forms of EK that are significant to instilling positive environmental attitudes and behaviours among students. The first is known as declarative knowledge. This knowledge helps an individual understand how environmental processes work. Frick, Kaiser and Wilson (2004) specify that declarative knowledge contains both the scientific knowledge on how ecosystems operate (referred to as geography-environment system knowledge) and the knowledge on the effects of human actions on the environment (referred to as human-environment system knowledge). The former includes examples such as the understanding of how clouds are formed and where the groundwater originates. The latter would look at how, for instance, deforestation by people brings about negative impacts to the environment. The second is procedural knowledge, which refers to the knowledge on the range of behavioural alternatives and how to execute them, like how soil erosion can be prevented (Frick et al., 2004). Effectiveness knowledge is the third dimension and often found missing in EE analysis, but which Kaiser and Fuhrer (2003) believe would encourage translation of knowledge into action. For instance, a question related to this knowledge, “Which recycled material saves more energy in comparison to producing it?” (Díaz-Siefer, Neaman, Salgado, Celis-Diez, & Otto, 2015, p. 15512) would demand higher-order thinking skill from students as they consider the relative effectiveness of different environmental strategies when intending to act. This provides opportunities for teachers to creatively stimulate students’ imagination by setting a context that enables students to apply this knowledge. However, differentiating between procedural and effectiveness knowledge can be difficult. In Liefländer, Bogner, Kibbe and Kaiser’s (2015) work, “Which method is effective for saving water?” (p. 3) was used as an example of procedural knowledge. Going by the definition explained earlier by Kaiser and Fuhrer (2003), this question would require some evaluation, which should have been classified as effectiveness knowledge. To ensure clarity, this paper chooses to define procedural knowledge solely as the knowledge on the range of behavioural alternatives, and effectiveness knowledge as the knowledge on the relative effectiveness of the alternative strategies.

With regards to the nature of EK taught in school curricula, Jensen (2002) believes that it “is not in essence action-oriented” (p. 329). This sentiment is supported by Fien (2003), who argued that youths are insufficiently educated on the possible alternatives to address environmentally harmful practices. Hence, Jensen proposes an ‘action-oriented’ knowledge model containing four different knowledge dimensions, namely, effects, causes, change strategies, and alternatives and visions that could guide teaching and learning towards the goal of enhancing students’ competency to act and effect change. This model would directly address the link between EE and the formal geography education.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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