Environmental Education in Singapore: An Analysis of Environmental Knowledge in the Lower Secondary Geography Curriculum

Introduction

Curricula Goals of Environmental Education

Environmental education (EE) was first developed at a time when environmental degradation became widely prominent (UNESCO, 1976). EE becomes even more relevant today as we are ever pressured by pressing environmental issues such as those arising from pollution, waste management, and climate change, both locally and globally. The 1975 Belgrade Charter was the first milestone of EE, providing an international framework for EE to rapidly proliferate in many cities. Essentially, EE aims to:

“develop a world population that is aware of, and concerned about, the environment and its associated problems, and which has the knowledge, skills, attitudes, motivations and commitment to work individually and collectively towards solutions of current problems and the prevention of new ones” (UNESCO, 1976, p. 2).

Research Study and Objectives

While EE is often interpreted differently and contextually adapted, the unanimous practice for public education is to incorporate EE in school disciplines. Of interest is how the geography discipline has long been promoted as the platform for introducing EE (Ministry of Education, 2019). This paper is concerned with how EE is incorporated into the Singapore’s Lower Secondary Geography (LSG) curriculum. Within this context, this paper understands EE to be a study of the environment that aims to promote positive environmental behavioural changes and actions of students though the use of effective pedagogy, together with the teaching and learning of the right kinds of content (Thomas, 2015). The question then is what does the geography curriculum offer to students or what is the form of environmental knowledge (EK) that can empower them to act for the environment.

There are two reasons for this study to examine the LSG curriculum. Firstly, as a compulsory subject for students in the Singapore’s public schools, it potentially affects a vast number of youths in their formative development of the appropriate environmental knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours. Secondly, while EE is believed to be present in the LSG curriculum, the gap between environmental awareness and actions among youths warrants our attention (Chang, 2014; Ramirez, 2017). Hence, an analysis of the LSG curriculum will prove significant in understanding what exactly the curriculum offers. Although it is acknowledged that solely analysing the cognitive aspect of EE might not contribute to a holistic study, it is indisputable that the right kinds of EK discussed is a key factor in developing students’ positive attitudes and behaviours towards the environment (Chang, 2016).

EE research in Singapore has gained traction with the rising acknowledgement of the contribution of geography education to EE, particularly with the support of evidence from empirical studies. However, heeding calls for a stronger integration of EE into the geography discipline both globally and locally, this paper contends the need to clarify what are the key EK dimensions critical for a closer integration EE and geography education.

This paper is organised into six parts, beginning with the introduction. Section two, the literature review, is dedicated to reviewing a few models that expound on the relevant dimensions of EK. With insights from the review, a four EK-dimension framework is then created for subsequent analysis of the LSG syllabus. Section three describes the qualitative analysis of the LSG curriculum before the findings and interpretation, and the discussion are presented in Sections four and five respectively. Section six concludes this study and provides some recommendations for a stronger integration of EE into the LSG curriculum.

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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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