Over the past thirty years, it has often been stated that primary school education should endeavour to improve and protect the environment through producing an 'environmentally informed, committed and active citizenry'. Even so, existing research shows that the implementation of environmental education in primary schools is problematic and has had limited success. However, the reasons for these shortcomings are far from clear, with present research merely speculating about barriers to effective implementation. This paper presents a detailed discussion and analysis of primary school teachers' knowledge and beliefs about environmental concepts and environmental education. In so doing, the paper identifies a perceived gap within the field of environmental education research and literature. This field has neglected studies of Australian primary school teachers' knowledge and beliefs about environmental education as a factor affecting the capacity of schooling to achieve environmental education goals. To these ends, I utilise the concept of 'environmental literacy' to assess primary school teachers' knowledge and beliefs about environmental education. Based upon preliminary data analysis, I tentatively claim that current Queensland primary school teachers are variably committed to and demonstrably lack content knowledge of environmental concepts and environmental education. More significantly, these primary school teachers tend to dismiss the importance of content knowledge, preferring to focus upon attitudes towards environmental education and environmental concepts. Clearly these levels of environmental literacy are inadequate if environmentally literate students and thus an environmentally literate citizenry are to be achieved within schools. I conclude that the introduction of environmental literacy in educational policy would advance the goals of environmental education, namely the production of an informed, committed and active citizenry.
Cutter, A & Smith, S 2001, 'Gauging primary school teachers’ environmental literacy', in PL Jeffery (ed.), AARE 2001 Conference Papers, Fremantle, WA, 2 –6 December, Australian Association for Research in Education, Melbourne, Vic.
Presentation available from: