A child can directly influence the attitude and behaviour of
their parents towards the environment without them even knowing it.
This is according to a group at Imperial College London who
have, for the first time, provided quantitative support for the suggestion that
environmental education can be transferred between generations and that it can
actually affect behaviour.
Their findings have been published today, 13 February, in IOP Publishing's journal Environmental
The study took part on the Mahé Island in the Republic of
Seychelles, where there is a very strong history of environmental education.
The researchers based their study around the degradation of freshwater habitats
in the country's wetlands, which is being caused by litter, wetland reclamation
and household wastewater.
How the study was
A total of 15 wildlife clubs, who each provide environmental
education to children in the school system through a series of activities, took
part in the study.
"School children in the Seychelles are fortunate to
have a curriculum that emphasises the teaching of environmental concepts across
a broad range of subjects," said lead author of the study Peter Damerell
of Imperial's Department of Life Sciences.
"In addition, NGO-supported wildlife clubs are present
within all education institutions and represent an opportunity to undertake
more detailed and interactive activities than are possible within the classroom
Of the 15 wildlife clubs involved in the study, seven
participated in wetland activities over a 12-month period, whilst the remaining
eight worked on alternative subjects; 161 students were involved overall.
Questionnaires were issued to all of the students, as well
as their parents, and were based on multiple aspects of wetland knowledge, such
as the different species that live in the wetlands and the threats that they're
being exposed to.
The questionnaires issued to the parents also included
questions on their use of water, which were specifically designed to test how
conscious they were of water shortages – there were 16 possible behaviours that
a parent was scored on.
What the study showed
Results showed that a child's participation in the
activities not only increased their parent's knowledge of the wetlands but also
their behaviour – parents were more inclined to conserve water if their child
participated in the wetland activity.
It is possible that the parents had a varying amount of
wetland knowledge before the study; however, they had no control over which
group their child was placed in, meaning the overall differences shown between
the experimental and control group can be assumed to be down to the wetlands
Indeed, the researchers tested a wide range of possible
explanatory variables for the observed differences in wetland knowledge and it
was those related to children receiving wetland education at Wildlife Club Seychelles
that were consistently the best at explaining the observed results.
"Within this study, parents were often shown to be
unaware that they were gaining environmental knowledge via their children. This
finding alone highlights the need for more quantitative, experimental style
investigations into the capacity of children to influence their parent's
knowledge and household behaviours.
"By providing evidence that shows children can cause
their parents to take up more environmental practises, we hope that many more
studies will attempt to look at how much knowledge is transferred under
different scenarios, and which pieces of information are most likely to change
household practises," continued Damerell.