Environmental Education in Singapore: An Analysis of Environmental Knowledge in the Lower Secondary Geography Curriculum, pp. 4 of 9

The first knowledge dimension relates to the knowledge about the effects of environmental problems, that is, the awareness of the existence and extent of the issues. However, this knowledge is technical and can lead to an unintended effect of ‘action paralysis’ among students if not coupled with the understanding of the causes and solutions of the problems (Jensen, 2002; Thielking & Moore, 2001). The second dimension involves the knowledge about the root causes of environmental problems. This requires a holistic examination of an issue, for instance, by looking at the cultural, economic, and political background behind an intensification of an agricultural production in a certain place (Jensen, 2002). The third dimension, the knowledge on strategies for change, is central to an action-oriented form of EE for it provides the knowledge about how one can contribute to the changing environmental conditions at various scales. This form of knowledge also helps for instance, to develop problem-solving and collaborative skills among students. The fourth knowledge dimension spurs students to develop their own alternatives and visions of environmental conditions, which Jensen believes would enhance students’ willingness and ability to act.

Theoretical Framework for Analysing Environmental Knowledge

This study proposes a framework that contains four EK dimensions thought to be significant in addressing environmental issues (see Figure 1). It is constructed by classifying common knowledge dimensions in terms of their characteristics and definitions from the review of the researchers’ work in the literature review (see Table 1). For simpler reference, this section will refer to Kaiser and Fuhrer’s (2003) and Jensen’s (2002) work as research A and research B, respectively. The four knowledge dimensions will also be referred to as EK1 to EK4.

Firstly, EK1, the knowledge on system, causes and effects includes the declarative knowledge from research A and the knowledge about effects and root causes from research B. These abovementioned forms of knowledge provide the necessary basic geographical knowledge but is deemed insufficient to promote action among students (Raselimo, Irwin, & Wilmot, 2013). One might doubt EK1’s classification given that declarative knowledge from research A has no explicit inclusion of knowledge about causes of environmental problems, which is however featured in research B. It must be clarified that thorough considerations have been made when combining the knowledge forms from both researchers. On further research, it was found that knowledge on causes of environmental problems is at times classified under declarative knowledge. For instance, while Díaz-Siefer et al’s (2015) made references to research A’s EK dimension model, “What is the major cause of pollution of groundwater with nitrates?” (p. 15514) was given as an example of declarative knowledge. By categorising EK1 as the knowledge on system, causes and effects, it is believed to reflect a more holistic and encompassing knowledge dimension. Next, EK2, the knowledge on strategies for change takes on the knowledge dimension as termed by Jensen as it overlaps with the procedural knowledge from research B. Lastly, no combined grouping for the effectiveness knowledge from research A and the knowledge about alternatives and visions from research B was made since no commonalities were observed. However, both knowledge dimensions are crucial. Effectiveness knowledge would provide the needed evaluation skills and is considered the most important knowledge among the other dimensions according to Kaiser and Fuhrer (2003). Knowledge about alternatives and visions is believed to galvanise environmental actions as students learn to formulate their own opinions and consider alternative environmental ideals in their society (Fien, 2003; Jensen, 2004). Thus, two separate categories were created – EK3 following research A’s knowledge about strategies’ effectiveness and EK4, as cued by research B, as knowledge about alternatives and vision.

Methodology

This study involves a systematic qualitative analysis of the LSG curriculum through the examination of the 2014 LSG syllabus document (CPDD, 2014a), made available online by the Singapore’ Ministry of Education (MOE). Document analysis provides valuable insights to the official discourse on the importance of EE in geography education (Cohen, Manion & Morrison, 2013). Teachers are also supported with a document that guides them in teaching and learning (TLG) of the geography syllabus (CPDD, 2014b). The TLG is subsequently analysed to overcome limitations of a subjective analysis of the LSG syllabus document. This is done by examining the number of periods recommended for each of the guiding questions or GQs before extending the analysis to understand the curriculum’s emphasis on each knowledge dimension.

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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