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Primary children's views on science and environmental issues: examples of environmental cognitive and moral development

Michael Littledyke
University of Gloucestershire

Paper presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, University of Lisbon, 11-14 September 2002


Children from seven classes representing the year groups in a primary school were interviewed in groups of three or four to find out their understanding and views on issues related to the environment and science. The large majority showed considerable interest and concern about environmental issues related to their experience and understanding, drawn from school and influences outside of the school, though they showed limitations and contradictions in their understanding of the issues. The children's understanding of science was mainly limited to their experience of the subject at school and few showed any understanding of the impact of science on society or the environment. Examples of children's cognitive and moral development of environmental issues are presented, including a model of the phases in the development, as identified from the interviews. The implications for teaching science and environmental education are discussed.


In recent years there has been developing interest in environmental education in response to growing planetary environmental problems. As a consequence there has been increasing research into children's understanding of science concepts related to environmental issues to inform environmental educational programmes (Pugh Thomas, 1986; Ali, 1991; Boyes, and Stanisstreet, 1993, 1994; Greaves et al. 1993; Helldιn, 1995; Leach et al., 1995, 1996a, b; Palmer, 1995; Qualter et al., 1995; Batterham et al., 1996; Bonnett and Williams, 1998). The research presented in this paper extends this work by seeking to establish children's environmental concerns, understanding and influences of primary children as exemplified by a case study school (Mitchell, 1983). The research also examines the attitudes of the children towards science and whether these attitudes influence, or are influenced by, their environmental outlook, with a view to informing the process of identifying an agenda for science education which supports environmental education.

Philosophical and historical rationale

The research focus of investigating the connection between science and environmental education is important because of the historical link between the application of science and environmental damage during the modern era since the growth of science in the period of the Enlightenment (Harvey, 1989; Lyon, 1994). This link has been established through analysis of the impact of the positivist, objectivist, reductionist, deterministic and mechanistic model of science which has dominated the modern era for over 300 years since the rise of modern science at the time of Newton, Galilleo, Bacon and other contemporary early scientists (Littledyke, 1996b). Thus, the modern scientific model has produced damaging technologies which oppose and destroy ecological systems. This model, however, runs counter to postmodern science (Griffin, 1988), which proposes a view of the world based on probability and complex dynamic interaction rather than deterministic, causal, mechanistic processes (Hardy, 1999). Postmodern science also accepts that scientific ideas are rooted in human language (Rorty, 1982) and that the scientific ideas change or develop according to new emerging evidence (Popper, 1963; Kuhn, 1970). Furthermore, postmodern science shows how whole systems can influence their component parts, which also highlights the limitations of reductionism as a process for understanding living systems as well as when applied to technology. Postmodern science is revisionist in its critique of the assumptions of modern science. It is also ecological (Birch, 1988), or 'organicist' (Griffin, 1988), and offers approaches which are more likely to achieve ecological sustainability, whilst providing critical understanding of the damaging influences of modern science and technology.

Educational implications

Whilst the central proposals of modern science have been largely discredited by scientific developments, particularly in the fields of quantum physics (Capra, 1975; Bohm, 1983; Davies, 1989, 1992; Green, 2000) and the emerging science of complexity (Prigogine and Stengers, 1984; Gleick, 1988; Kaufmann, 1992; Lewin, 1993; Waldrop, 1994), many teachers still hold inappropriate, modern scientific views and may perpetuate them in their teaching (Claydon et al., 1994; Littledyke, 1997, Abd-El-Khalick and Lederman, 2000; Ashley, 2000). The National Curriculum, with its knowledge-centered and assessment-driven priorities (White, 1993), can also drive teachers to instrumental teaching methods and can squeeze out non-assessed areas of the curriculum, such as environmental education (Silcock, 1992; Littledyke, 1994a, 1996a). Negative attitudes towards science in relation to the environment, coupled with science teaching which fails to connect with experience, may contribute to disaffection with science in older children (Holton, 1992). The research presented here, therefore, seeks to assess the possible influences of these factors by finding out how primary children perceive science in relation to environmental issues, as well as establishing what are the major environmental concerns and environmental understanding of children of this age group. Models of moral and cognitive development in relation to environmental concerns are subsequently proposed, as derived from the data.

Context and methodology

The case study school is an English primary school in the suburban outskirts of a medium sized city with approximately 350 children from a mixed social background, but with the majority from white, working class homes. General level of attainment on intake is lower than the national average, but the standards of achievement rise towards average in older classes in the school, verifying educational progress and indicating an effective educational environment. Environmental education is not systematically included in planning, though some teachers have an interest in environmental issues and draw on this in their teaching.

The views of the children in the school were sampled in by selecting a class from each year group, years one to six (138 children in total, with 20-27 from each class), and interviewing children in groups of usually four (or sometimes three to balance total class numbers). The class teachers selected the groups according to approximately similar ability in science and indicated the teacher assessment for each child according to National Curriculum levels of attainment. Teachers were also interviewed to establish their views and perspectives on science and environmental education to determine the educational influences on the children. The interviews took place during June and July of 1999.

The conduct of the interviews

There are numerous texts, which include discussion of the carrying out and reporting of interviews in educational research (e.g. Stenhouse, 1982; Walker, 1985; Jones, 1985; Breakwell, 1990; Robson, 1993), with some addressing interviews with young children (Brice Heath, 1982; Wood and Wood, 1983; Fine and Sandstrom, 1988; La Greca, 1995; Lewis and Lindsay, 2000). A major problem identified in interviews, particularly with children, includes that of fostering an atmosphere of trust and security so that the participants feel able to express themselves as fully and as honestly as they are able to. The following factors were considered important to enable this to occur:

• Group interviews: of (usually) four children, in which the children know each other well, provided a greater sense of security than individual interviews. An important advantage is that it creates the conditions for discussion which can stimulate ideas and extend the conversation through peer interaction (Lewis, 1992). During the interview each child was named by the response "thank you name " after each contribution so that the children could be identified in the transcription.

• Introduction: A quiet place was used (corridor, empty classroom or staff room), to minimise distractions. Child-sized chairs were arranged in a circle or around a table, to signify non-dominance, and with an audio recorder in an unobtrusive position. The interview location was organised in advance and the children were collected from the classroom. A friendly manner was essential to create a relaxed atmosphere and a slightly lowered body posture gave non-threatening signals. Some initial social chat put the children at ease. The purposes of the interview ("I'm talking to children in your school to find out what you think about certain things") and the audio recording ("It's to help me remember what you say") were explained, and making it clear that no one else would hear the tapes made confidentiality explicit.

• Interview style and content: There was a consistent agenda for the interviews so that responses could be compared across ages and abilities. This included:

What do the children understand by the word environment?
What are their main environmental concerns?
What understanding do they have of the associated issues and concepts?
How do they understand and respond to science in school and in its impact on society, and does this influence their attitudes to environmental issues?
What are the main influences on their attitudes and understanding?

The interviews were approximately 30 minutes long, which was an appropriate length for attention and involvement. The structure was kept flexible and the questions and dialogue were made as responsive to the children as possible. Interviewing style was one of a non-judgmental active listener with questions designed to draw out and clarify views and attitudes. Use of appropriate language matched to the age and ability of the children was also essential to ensure good communication and to find out about the children's ideas in their own terms. This was achieved by avoiding use of technical terms, unless they were introduced by the children, and by using the language range familiar to the particular children involved.

A variety of interviewing roles were adopted during the interviews to enable a process of free and coherent expression of views. These roles were characterised by particular kinds of intervention. There was a need to be flexible and responsive to the children by moving between these roles, whilst taking account of the agenda to be covered. The roles and the types of associated interventions are categorised below, according to their purposes:

  1. Reflecting views: to enable clarification of previous statements, e.g. "so do you mean ...?", or "so what you're saying is ... ". The child was then able to confirm, reject or expand on the point of reflection.
  2. Facilitating expression of ideas: to elaborate ideas and to enable the child to explain a point in more detail, e.g. "would you tell us more about that?", or "could you give an example?".
  3. Clarifying: to make a statement easier to understand, e.g. "would you explain that?", or "can you say that in another way?".
  4. Initiating: to introduce a new area for consideration to enable the agenda to be efficiently covered, e.g. "what do you think about ...?', or "what would you think if I said ...?".
  5. Informing: This role was necessary, at times, to explain points which the children did not understand and which were essential to the discussion, e.g. explaining, if necessary, what the term environment meant in the context of the interview.
  6. Facilitating the taking of a stance: to encourage the statement of a point of view e.g. "what is your view about ...?", or "what are your feelings about ...?".
  7. Challenging: This role would involve the presentation of a different point of view (which was not necessarily the view of the interviewer), e.g. "what do you think when people say ...?", or "on the other hand ...".
  8. Confirming/supporting: to make the children feel at ease and to encourage the flow of the discussion. This also included confirming responses and those which acknowledge common experience. Such responses were important in avoiding distancing in the interview, e.g. "that's a good idea", or "yes, I've found that also". Non-verbal messages, including non-threatening body posture and confirming gestures and utterances, e.g. nods, 'mm' etc. were also important in this role.

The various roles were adopted to facilitate free expression and clarification of the ideas of the children. Thus the roles of reflecting, facilitating of expression of ideas and clarifying were focused on clarification, whilst the roles of initiating, informing, stance facilitating, and challenging were focused on introducing new ideas into the discussion. The role of confirming/supporting was an underlying position which encouraged open expression.


All interviews were fully transcribed and analysed using NUD•IST (Qualitative Solutions and Research Pty Ltd., 1985) qualitative analysis computer software programme. The data was labelled to identify the interview group, the class and year group, the children involved, their gender and their estimated levels of attainment in science according to teacher assessment. Each utterance was also categorised according to its content and labelled by a signifier in the text (e.g. HU to represent discussion about the hunting of animal, or PO for pollution). It was then possible to collate children's statements according to content categories, levels of attainment, age and gender for comparison. Statements from the various categories were then analysed for percentage frequency of occurrence from the number of text units of transcript taken up by the discussion about the category. These frequencies provided a measure of relative importance of the various categories to the children. Examples of types of statements were also used to exemplify views of children from different attainment levels to illustrate progression in the children's views.

Scope, limitations and problems

As a case study from one school and involving six classes, including 138 children, the conclusions are indicative rather than generalisable. Group interviews enhanced the flow of discussion, but this also means, however, that individual views were harder to isolate and to quantify. The use of a single interviewer provided consistency across the interviews and complete audio transcripts for data analysis increased the validity of the findings by avoiding researcher bias or error at the recording stage. Also, the structure of the interviews was designed to elicit major concerns and views, rather than asking tightly focused questions, which would produce more directly comparable answers, but which would also inhibit flow of conversation. Potential problems in interviewing children that may inhibit or distort responses included:

These problems were countered by actively encouraging children to express their own views (e.g. "It's important to say what you think", "It's OK to think differently", or "People often have different views on this") and by adopting an encouraging, lively and interested interview style. However, the children generally showed interest and participation and were, in most cases, considerably motivated by talking about what was important to them. The large majority, therefore, engaged actively in the process and a wide enough range of views were expressed to indicate that the views were generally a reliable expression of what the children actually believed.


Conception of environment

Children of different ages showed different understanding of the term 'environment'. As may be expected, younger children, compared to the older children, had never heard of the term or had heard of it but didn't understand. These differences are shown in table 1:

Table 1: Percentage negative responses to the question "When people talk about the environment what do they mean?"

year 1 (21/23 children): 91.3%

year 4 (15/24 children): 55.5%

year 2 (17/20 children): 85.0%

year 5 (4/20 children): 20.0%

year 3 (19/27 children): 70.4%

year 6 (2/24 children): 8.3%

Table 2 shows that most children who recognised the term environment identified it with the categories: the world, living things in general or with the living or non-living environments, whilst some associated environment with protecting and caring for these categories. A number identified the term directly with environmental problems. Older or more able children within year groups generally showed understanding, which included inclusive or global concepts, such as the world at large, wildlife in general or aspects of pollution:

Table 2: Percentage incidence of categories of understanding of the term environment

Category of understanding

(with examples of statements)

year 1/2

year 3/4

year 5/6

the world at large: "the world around us"




protecting the world: "how the world is kept"; "making the world better"




living things: "nature"; "animals and plants"




protecting living things: "protecting wildlife"; "endangered species"




the local environment: "the countryside"




far away environments: "rain forest"




the built environment: our home; "anywhere you live"




protecting the built environment: "stopping people spraying on walls"




litter: don't throw rubbish; "keeping the place tidy"




other environmental problems: "pollution"; "ozone"; "global warming"




as an attitude: "sharing"




school: "the governors say what we should learn in school"




When children had no clear environment concept they were given an inclusive, and appropriate for the age, explanation, which included the world around them, to enable the interview to progress.

Areas of environmental concern

The areas of concern, which were raised by the children, are shown in table 3. The table also includes percentage discussion time for each category in relation to the whole interview, as calculated from text units of transcript. These figures give an indicator of the relative importance of the categories to the various groups of children.

Table 3: Categories of areas of concern raised by the children during the interviews

category of concern

year 1

year 2

year 3

year 4

year 5

year 6

living things: animals







hunting of animals







exploitation of animals (e.g. meat eating, chemical testing, zoos, use of furs/skins)







animals dying from pollution (e.g. oil, car fumes)







animals injured/dying from accidents (e.g. litter, cars)







animals dying from loss of habitats (e.g. road building)







threatened/endangered species (e.g. whales, tigers)







danger from animals (e.g. predators, disease)







caring for animals (including pets)







other discussion about animals (e.g. animal sightings)







living things: plants







environments (e.g. rainforest or reference to countryside)







transport (including the local bypass)














air pollution (e.g. car, factory emissions, ozone, global warming)







land/water pollution (e.g. rubbish, oil)




























energy conservation (conserving electricity)







concerns involving people (e.g. care for poor, homeless people, crime/vandalism)







Figures show percentage of the total interview time in the year group taken up by the discussion about the category (calculated from the percentage number of text units of transcript taken up by the discussion about the category).

Each category was analysed for statements from children, identified at science National Curriculum levels 1, 2/3 and 4/5 by their teacher, to show progression in children's ideas. There is not space to include all the analyses of progression in the categories here, though examples of progression in statements in two categories relating to animals are shown in tables 4 and 5. The statements within categories were also analysed for gender differences, though no major differences in responses of girls and boys were found.

Several important issues emerge from the above quantitative and qualitative analyses:

Priorities in categories of concern

The categories of concern which were cited most frequently were those involving animals and waste across all ages, with transport and pollution issues becoming more significant among older children. All these issues had immediate relevance to the children, though few showed extensive understanding, and many had misconceptions. Concern for animals in some form was a feature in all interviews and is likely influenced by the identification which children have for pets and with the anthropomorphic representations of animals which are extensively portrayed in children's literature, film and TV programmes. Waste, as litter, was usually seen as a problem because it is unsightly and all children were well aware of the need to "put rubbish in the bin", though few identified rubbish as resources which come from the Earth. Many, however, saw the need for recycling through recycling activities at home, though few made connections with the production of consumer goods, with the resulting energy use, pollution and waste as reasons for recycling. Most older children used the word pollution, though most had a limited understanding of the concept. Many identified pollution as litter, and few had a clear concept of chemical pollution. Transport problems were linked commonly to car pollution, though few understood its effect, apart from the link which asthma, which several were aware of through personal experience. Many saw the ambivalence in the advantages and disadvantages of car use, and some older children expressed strong anti-car sentiments.

Caring attitudes

The large majority of children from all ages showed clear, and in many cases, emotive concern for caring towards aspects of their perceived environment. This was particularly evident in the response to animals e.g.:

(talking about car exhaust pollution)"I think it is cruel to the animals, because the fumes get into the animals throats and they die and there will be less animals"

"I t feels like, where have all our animals gone? I always think about the animals, because I go bird watching, I have got a pair of binoculars, and every time I see a bird I think fumes go away. I am never ever going to buy something like that (a car)".

Only a handful of children were seemingly not concerned, uninterested or did not understand the issues being discussed.

Progression in children's priorities and environmental cognition

Tables 4, 5 and 6 as examples of progression in statements in categories of concern, show that the children demonstrated clear differences in priorities and understanding according to their age and ability, which approximates to Piaget's ideas of cognitive development (1950) in relation to their environmental understanding. Criticisms of the rigidity of Piaget's stage theory by authors such as Donaldson (1978) are relevant here, however, as the data as a whole does not conform to a simple and consistent model of linear cognitive development. Significantly, some groups of children were influenced by their experiences in class and, in some cases, they showed better understanding of certain issues than some older children. Examples of this influence, listed below, confirm the importance of language and appropriate discussion about the issues in fostering environmental cognitive development, as well as the importance of planned teaching which exposes children to environmental issues and concepts (Vygotsky, 1962; Bruner and Haste, 1987; Wood, 1988):

See Tables 4, 5 and 6 [at end of document]

Progression in children's environmental moral awareness

Analysis of the children's responses also shows that development of environmental cognition must also include consideration of moral judgement (Pozarnik, 1995). In this way, effective and affective development complement each other, which is consistent with current physiological understanding of brain functioning and learning (Pinel, 1993). Kohlberg (1976) showed that cognitive development is linked to moral reasoning, though his stage theory of moral development was criticised for not taking into account affective functions, that it is essential 'left brain' orientated and does not take into account holistic experience of 'right brain' functioning (MacDonald, 1980). Furthermore, Gilligan (1982) considered that Kohlberg's theory needs to be expanded to take into account reasoning based on care and responsibility. Aron (1980) considered that children need more than analytical thinking (which is the major feature of Kohlberg's moral education programmes), they need vicarious experiences which give substance and life to the abstractions of metaethics (ethical functions). This infers that consideration of real-life moral dilemmas, such as environmental problems, is important to moral development. The principles of ecosophy, or deep ecology (Sessions, 1974; Drengson, 1989; Naess, 1989; Fox, 1990), which extend moral principles to include responsibility towards other living things and the biosphere as a whole, are particularly important in this respect.

Table 6 shows examples of statements that show features of developing environmental moral awareness within the category of waste. This approximates to the pattern outlined in Kohlberg's theory of stage development of moral reasoning, though, significantly, caring attitudes can be important at all stages. Thus, many younger, lower level, children have generally egocentric views and see not throwing litter as obedience/subservience to a higher authority. They may follow the order "do what you are told" out from desire to please or fear of reprisal, but they can also see how litter can cause accidents to animals or other people. Developing reasoning and understanding of the issues enables older and higher ability younger children to justify environmental action in the context of what is socially and environmentally desirable. Some are able to articulate, in their own terms, the problem of anthropocentrism, which has been identified by deep ecologists as the central issue in environmental relations, e.g.:

"The problem is just mainly the killing of animals in general and many will be extinct. Some people they don't care about others, do they? They are just self important, but animals are important too."

General patterns in environmental cognitive and moral development are summarised by movement from the personal, concrete and egocentric toward understanding self in relation to the world at large. This development is influenced by physiological maturation, widening experience of phenomena (including planned teaching), which influences understanding, and exposure to a wide range of views including 'higher' moral reasoning. These patterns, which relate generally to Kohlberg's stages of moral development, can be expressed as:

Obedience to authority: 'I'll do it because I'm ordered to'

Conformity to rules: 'I'll follow the rules because everyone else does'

Awareness of connections consequences/value position: 'I see the value in action, e.g. litter makes mess, accidents, disease, and I care about its effects on others (people and other living things). I understand the chain of connections and consequences of action involved'

Informed environmental action: 'I take action on the basis of informed concern'

Key aspects of the changes, which can occur in environmental cognition and moral development, include:

Aspects of this development were shown across the interviews, though the issue of whether moral awareness and judgement about environmental issues will lead to action is a major and unknown factor. There is commonly contradiction in adult behaviour in these issues, which is a primary contributor to environmental problems. Inconsistencies in children's professed viewpoints and action also manifest through the discussions. For example, children universally agreed that people should use litter bins though reports from teachers show that this is not always the case for the children themselves. Many were strongly against cars because of exhaust pollution though a significant proportion of these didn't see themselves as particularly reducing car use or using alternative transport when older. Many were very much against harming or killing animals, yet few related this position to killing animals for meat.


The influence of experience in the formation of scientific concepts is well researched and constructivism is a central feature of learning theory (Littledyke and Huxford, 1998). This is also clearly centrally important in the development of environmental awareness. Children, when asked how they found out about the ideas they were discussing, referred to: influential adults, especially parents; books; the media, including TV programmes such as 'Newsround' and the 'National News', 'Blue Peter', 'The Really Wild Show' and others concerning animals; as well as classroom discussion or topics. Significantly, the responses from children from different classes, with teachers of different inclination to environmental education, showed that teachers can have an influence on children's attitudes. This can be effected by a combination of teachers providing a good role model of environmental action (e.g. recycling, purchase of 'environmentally friendly' products, use of alternatives to cars or sharing when possible), class discussions of current media issues, and planned environmental projects.

Attitudes to science

A major aim of the research was to find out how children perceive science in relation to their understanding of environmental issues. Whilst many children talked animatedly about their understanding of and concerns about their environment, their discussions about science were largely limited to their experiences of science at school. Few had a perspective of science as an important influence in society and as a factor in environmental issues; either as a contributing element to the problems or as part of the solution:

Whilst some of the youngest children had heard of the word science, few understood what is involved, seeing it as undifferentiated within activities of the class, e.g.:

science is "keeping quiet" (confusion with silence), "about drawing ... writing ... countries".

Older children had some understanding of science and most children had a positive attitude to the subject, commonly seeing it as finding out about the world, e.g.:

(what is science?) "so we understand about things when we grow up ... and you learn about nature as well, because we know about plants and flowers ... learning about how things work"

(what do you feel about science?) "I find it interesting ... we can test our ideas ... you can try things out ... I like being adventurous in finding out about things."

Many children identified it specifically with topics they had studied and the most positive comments were about active and practical learning, e.g.:

"It's fun ... making things and making them work ... you can make a flash with batteries and wires ... I like putting the (model) lungs together ... making wheels go round ... making buzzers work."

Of those who had negative views about science, this usually was when there was too much writing or talking involved, e.g.:

"It's hard work for me ... I don't like the writing - its rubbish ... they don't make it interesting."

"There's too much stuff to remember. Those tests we did were stupid."

"The teacher talks too much."

The most common view of science was as an approach to learning and few children related science to application in society, e.g.:

"You learn things you don't know before and stuff that other people might not know."

"It will be helpful when I grow up ... It's fun for adults when they can't go to the pub often and they can play with circuits."

"You might be a professor when you're older."

Of those who did have a view about the application of science, mostly it was seen as useful, though a few saw a link with environmental problems, e.g.:

"It's useful mostly ... for making medicines ..."

"Science is good because ... they invent more things that are useful ... in the houses in the olden days they didn't have electricity."

"It could be bad if you make new things, new liquids, you might get things, bad things going into the air ... science could help to stop it as well by doing new things to stop it."

"It can be harmful if they invented something that can kill people."

"I know that water is re-cycled, but we are just wasting everything. I mean like when we turn on the washing machine 2000 litres of water is used up every wash."

Whilst the case study sample of children held largely positive views about science as a school activity there was generally little connection with science in society, though those who did mainly saw science as contributing positively. There were only a few instances of consideration of science's application in contributing to environmental problems. This was, perhaps, understandable, as, even though science was taught effectively as a subject (as judged by a recent positive OFSTED report), the schoolteacher interviews showed that it was not used to any significant degree as a medium for environmental education.

Implications for teaching

Environmental education has commonly been defined as education: about the environment (including cognitive understanding of environmental matters); in and through the environment (including direct experience of studying and working in the environment); and for the environment (including values and attitudes appropriate to environmental protection) (NCC, 1990). Although environmental education is essentially cross-curricular in nature, science education can support all of these. It is also important, given the historical link with science and environmental damage, that science education includes critical understanding of the impact of the application of science. However, the identification of environmental education as a cross-curricular theme, without the emphasis of a subject status and the location of much of the environmental content within geography has meant that science education is not generally being developed in this way. Also, the emphasis on assessment and reporting gives priority to core subjects, whilst squeezing out the non-assessed areas such as environmental education in many classrooms. These factors point to an important need for the systematic inclusion of environmental education within the science curriculum. There are many opportunities for this, and these are developed in some detail by Littledyke et al. (2000).

Here it will be useful to establish certain principles to guide planning for science to develop the goals of environmental education by:

Many teachers, whilst having sympathy with environmental education, feel pressured by the content-laden nature of the National Curriculum to give it as much time as they think it warrants. Through this pressure and their own lack of understanding of science, many teachers may be teaching science in a way which is disconnected to how it applies in the world (Littledyke, 1997). When science is taught as value free processes and concepts this also belies how science is applied, as science's application has social, environmental and moral consequences. These factors can contribute to missing an essential opportunity to provide a critical understanding of issues which the adults of the future will have to increasingly face as environmental problems intensify.

The responses of the children in this case study school show that the large majority cares about the state of the world in which they are growing up in and many have strong feelings about this. They have heard of many of the important issues, but they lack understanding of key ideas and relationships to help them make informed judgements on them. These conditions are likely to be common in primary schools, and this poses the challenge for development of science education which acts as a vehicle for environmental cognitive and moral development. Such an approach to science can provide a basis for creating a scientifically, environmentally and ethically educated society.


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I wish to thank to John Wilkins of Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education, Educational Research Unit, for assistance with use of NUD•IST software, which was essential to the data analysis.

Dr Michael Littledyke
Research Director
Faculty of Education and Social Sciences
The University of Gloucestershire
Francis Close Hall
Swindon Road
Glos. GL50 4AZ
Fax: 01242 56262
Tel. 01242 543414/532821

Table 4: Progression in statements of concern raised by the children during the interviews

Category: hunting of animals

statements from level 1 (and below) children

statements from level 2/3 children

statements from level 4/5 children

• It's dangerous to kill the other animals. It could come and attack you.

• I like foxes because they do not kill people.

• On Bambi, the video, his mummy gets killed because she was shot. What do you think about that? Well, if you are parents and you kill somebody it is naughty and its sad.

• People want their fur and their meat.

• Well they should not shoot things like animals and stuff them up and put them on a mantelpiece in their living rooms.

• Lots of animals die in the wild from hunters and they just get them to use their fur. It is horrible for the animals. So you do not agree with it? Why is that? Because animals are made to live not be killed.

• Well people just go along and kill the elephants to make ornaments out of their tusks. And what do you feel about that then? Well I feel you have just got to feel sorry for the elephants.

• They should be fair with the animals how would they like to be killed. They would not like it would they?

• Hunters should stop killing the elephants to get the ivory off them and the leopards just for their skin.

• We have got enough things to make coats out of different materials, you don't need fur - proper fur coats of animals. They should not do it.

• The Japanese are still killing the whales and they will become extinct if the Japanese keep on killing them.

• When they try to catch tuna some people use very big nets and they catch dolphins in it and it is so sad because I like animals, and they die

Table 5: Progression in statements of concern raised by the children during the interviews

Category: animals in danger

statements from level 1 (and below) children

statements from level 2/3 children

statements from level 4/5 children

• Some animals become ill they could die. And what do you feel about that? Sad.

• I know why the whale gets killed, because the pollution in the water would get in their body and kill them. What kind of pollution are you talking about then? Put in lots of milk and dirty water.

• Extinct means if you don't eat your yoghurts, they will go out of date.

• My rabbit died because he runs out the cage and a fox ate it.

• They are killing animals and then we won't have many animals.

• Extinct means that all the animals have died because people shoot them and things. When an animal has gone and there is no more left it is extinct.

• Can you think of any animals which might become extinct? Elephants. There is a certain bird that is extinct I think (the Dodo) It's horrible because they want them to be killed and stuff like that.

• Well its not very nice actually. I am a friend to the animals and my guinea pig was killed by another animal and I don't think this is very nice either. I want to stop it but I can't.

• I don't think it is very nice because people are building more and more things every day and that means less and less wildlife.

• The problem is just mainly the killing of animals in general and many will be extinct. Some people they don't care about others, do they? They are just self important, but animals are important too.

• African and Indian elephants, tigers, mountain tapirs and things like that. They are half extinct and people don't care about them.

• I feel sad sometimes when the animals got extinct, because in Russia and where the pandas live in China, some bad Chinese people are coming up into the bamboo forest and they have got these long spears with really pointed bamboo, and they try to get the pandas to come and get it and take its fur. And they make traps under the ground.

Table 6: Progression in statements of concern raised by the children during the interviews

Category: litter

statements from level 1 (and below) children

statements from level 2/3 children

statements from level 4/5 children

Why is it important not to throw litter?

• because it could cut the dog's paws and hurt them

• I might hurt my feet

• it makes everything messy

• you don't throw things on the floor

• you will get told off

• it's naughty

• my little sister always drops things on the floor and my dad says to me go and pick it up

• if you get a cut you will have to get it sewn up

• people can skid on it and fall over

• litter in the water can poison the fish

• it's not very nice because the animals might think it's food and it will kill them

• you can get pollution from the mess

• when they're going along in a car they throw cigarettes out the window.... it's disgusting - animals could burn their feet on it

• when people throw rubbish it gets worse and worse - they should put it in the bin

• small animals can crawl into cans and cut themselves and get an infection or get stuck and die

• you can catch diseases from it and it will make people ill

• it's a good thing to do because it helps to keep the place tidy - not just because people tell you to do it

• it's important to keep the place clean, but it's important to recycle and use it again to cut down on waste

How would you stop people doing it?

• If I saw somebody throwing litter on the floor, I would tell children not to do it ever again.

• Jesus would tell people to pick litter up.

• The Queen can tell them to tidy up.

• I will cut off their heads.

• I would send them to jail.

• Cast a spell on them.

• put up posters.

• I would go down to the places where I know people throw bits of rubbish in, and if I saw anyone I would grab them by the clothes, and I would shout at them to pick it up.

• send the guards and tell them to stop it.

• I would lock everybody up if they did something wrong

• put up notices.

• make rules

• punish people who break them.

• make them pay a big fine.

This document was added to the Education-line database on 25 November 2002