Positive correlation between environmental knowledge and attitudes found in Korean middle school students

Choe, J. -H., Kim, C. -H., & Ri, G. -H. (2020). An investigation on the environmental knowledge and attitudes of senior middle school students in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. International Research In Geographical & Environmental Education, 29, 146 - 162.

Environmental issues such as the increase of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and air and water pollution persist. The effects of these issues and other climate change concerns negatively impact both humans and the natural environment locally, regionally, and globally. For example, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) faces deforestation at an alarming rate. Environmental education (EE) aims to bring awareness to environmental issues like deforestation, its impacts, and actions students can take to mitigate those impacts. In the DPRK, environmental education has been a part of the education system since 1992, yet no research exists on how students' environmental knowledge and attitude has been affected by the curriculum, and is needed to improve it. This study aimed to assess the levels of environmental knowledge and attitudes in students from Korea, determine how they influenced each other, and how they were influenced by age and gender.

This study took place in Pyongyang, Korea and included 450 students in grades one to three in senior middle school. The students were 14 to 16 years old and came from 15 different classes between 10 schools. Researchers distributed a questionnaire to each student and received 423 completed questionnaires at the end of the school term in December 2018. The questionnaire consisted of two sections: environmental knowledge (20 multiple-choice options, possible scores ranged from 0-100) and an environmental attitude assessment, the revised New Ecological Paradigm (15 questions with responses on a scale from one, strongly disagree, to five, strongly agree, possible scores ranged from 15-175). The results from the questionnaires were then analyzed against students' grade level and gender.

In the environmental knowledge questionnaire, the mean scores ranged from 52.25%- 58.26% in correct responses; its value was considered low by the researchers. The researchers suggested this could be due to limited coverage of environmental topics in school. Students in grade 3 averaged a higher score in environmental knowledge than grade 2 and grade 1. Grade 3 students have more environmental topics in their curriculum compared to other grades, which could have led to their higher knowledge. Male students averaged higher environmental knowledge scores than their female peers. Mean scores for environmental attitudes ranged from 67.56-70.92, which were considered favorable by the researchers. Grade 3 students also scored the highest attitude scores. Surprisingly to the researchers, they found males had higher attitude scores than females, which they thought possibly was due to higher environmental knowledge of male students. The results also showed students with higher environmental knowledge scores had higher environmental attitude scores.

There were limitations to the study. Education and social dynamics differ in Korea compared to other countries, as the social dynamics of any community differ; thus, these knowledge and attitude scores are not generalizable to students in all other countries.

Based on the positive connection between environmental knowledge and attitudes found in study, the researchers recommended increased environmental education in DPRK school curricula. More effective ways of teaching, regardless of gender through science classes, is suggested to inform students of the pressing environmental issues. To do such, teachers need to have a high understanding of the natural environment.

The Bottom Line

<p>Environmental problems continue to plague the globe. For example, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) faces deforestation at an alarming rate, and environmental education (EE) is needed to teach citizens about these issues and how to solve them. This study focuses on the impacts of EE on school students ages 14 to 16 years in the Pyongyang region of the DPRK. Questionnaires that measured environmental knowledge and environmental attitudes, were completed by 423 students. Results showed overall low environmental knowledge scores of all students and relatively high attitude scores. Males had higher environmental knowledge and attitudes scores. Knowledge scores were positively correlated with attitudes. The researchers recommend increasing EE in DPRK's school curriculum.</p>

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