Research Summary

Marine environmental protection knowledge, attitudes, behaviors, and curricular involvement of Taiwanese primary school students in senior grades

Framework for Understanding Behaviors Related to Ocean Protection

Environmental Education Research

Teaching students to take care of the ocean and the life it supports is essential for promoting the future health of this precious resource. To this end, it is important to increase knowledge of, and caring attitudes toward, the ocean—and especially to promote environmentally responsible behavior. Some education and awareness-building programs propose that increasing environmental knowledge changes attitudes, which in turn changes behavior. However, this linear model of transmission has been questioned as the relationship between these elements is complex and suggests several pathways toward the end of ocean-friendly behavior. These researchers examined this model by measuring students’ knowledge, attitudes, and behavior regarding the protection of the marine environment.

This study took place in Taiwan, which has included environmental education in the school curriculum since the Environmental Education Act was passed in 2010. Since Taiwan is an island, many local environmental education curricula have focused on protecting the marine environment, and many of the students have participated in field trips to the beach. The study participants included upper-elementary- aged students from 25 schools across Taiwan; 30 students were chosen at random from each school, for a total of 750 participants.

The researchers designed a questionnaire to measure knowledge, attitudes, and behavior related to protecting the marine environment. The study defined three knowledge concepts related to marine protection: the marine environment, humans and the ocean, and functions of the ocean. Three questions pertaining to each of these concepts were included on the survey.

In terms of behavior, the researchers examined both direct and indirect actions related to taking care of the ocean. Direct actions involved beach- or ocean-related behaviors, such as picking up trash. Indirect actions included using less-polluting forms of transportation, buying less-polluting products, and attending to the pollution caused by daily activities in general. These actions were measured by questions regarding the frequency with which students estimated they currently engaged in each of these behaviors.

To measure students’ attitudes toward the ocean, the questionnaire asked whether the student felt inclined or disinclined (on a scale of 1 to 5) to engage in each of the behaviors mentioned above (for example, picking up trash). There were six additional questions included to measure students’ classroom curricular involvement relating to marine topics (that is, if they had covered marine topics in school) and their involvement in field trips to marine museums, the beach, and/or mangrove forests and estuaries. The questionnaire went through three phases of analysis and was tested for reliability before it was used. The final questionnaire included 25 items.

The results showed students had a fairly high amount of knowledge about the ocean, on average answering 71% of the knowledge content questions correctly. For ocean-protective behaviors and attitudes, the students uniformly reported medium to high levels. In terms of attitudes, students reported feeling more inclined to take behaviors that were directly supportive of the marine environment rather than those that were indirect; on the other hand, they reported actually engaging in behaviors that were indirectly protective of the ocean, versus direct behaviors such as beach or ocean-related behavior. This could be, in part, because the students have more opportunities to engage in behaviors indirectly protective of the ocean, and, perhaps, they are more rarely at the beach.

One of this study’s most significant findings was that knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors were not all correlated. This finding undermines the thesis that knowledge directly affects attitudes and behaviors. In addition, although behaviors and attitudes toward those behaviors did correlate, the correlation was very low. Attitudes protective of the environment only predicted 2% of behaviors protective of the environment.

Another finding the authors highlighted was the relative effectiveness of field trips versus classroom learning. Students who had reported visiting a marine museum, beach, or coastal wetland with their classes had more pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors compared with students who had not taken such trips. Students who had covered topics such as marine biodiversity, marine resources, and marine natural sciences in class were slightly more likely to report pro-ocean attitudes and behaviors, although the effect was much smaller than among field trip participants.

Overall, although field trips were relatively more effective than classroom learning, both field trip and school curricular involvement together only predicted 6% of marine-protective attitudes. The authors suggest that their study results imply that marine environmental protection knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors are mainly constructed from sources of information outside of the curricular efforts directly aimed at addressing these subjects.

The Bottom Line

The relationship between environmentally related knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors, specifically when focused on the marine environment, is complex and nonlinear. In fact, at times, knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors may not be correlated at all. Connections among these elements may be facilitated, however, if an educator helps create a bridge. Moreover, field trips are relatively more effective than classroom settings for promoting pro-marine environmental attitudes and behaviors.