An investigation into the influence of outdoor environmental education courses on the environmental attitude and behaviours of Malaysian participants: a life history approach
Syed Abdullah, Sharifah Intan Sharina
This research explores the influences of Residential Outdoor Environmental Education (ROEE) courses on participants’ environmental attitudes and behaviours, and whether and to what extent participants’ life experiences following the ROEE courses shape their subsequent environmental attitudes and behaviours. To date, research in this area has tended to adopt a psychological perspective and few studies have been undertaken which employ a social perspective. Drawing on the literature on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and Dewey’s concept of continuity of experience, the current study addresses this gap by investigating the subsequent experiences and behaviours of students who attended ROEE courses during their primary or secondary education in Malaysia from both psychological and social perspectives. Data were collected in four phases. Phase one was a documentary analysis, phase two involved an online survey, and phases three and four featured semi-structured interviews: an initial exploratory interview and then an extended interview with each of the participants. Each of the eleven interview participants had attended a ROEE course during either their primary or secondary education, although the time that had passed since their attendance varied quite considerably. Four of the participants’ experiences are presented as detailed vignettes to bring their voices to the fore and acknowledge the complexity and individuality of their life histories. Analysis at this stage was framed by the Transtheoretical model (TTM), which provides a framework that includes both psychological and social perspectives. This is followed by thematic analysis, within and across the interview sets, using constructivist grounded theory, and findings are presented as binary themes. Findings show that ROEE is not the primary event or intervention that accounts for notable environmental behaviour change. Rather, environmental behaviour change, where participants perform various forms of pro-environmental action, usually occurs as a result of their subsequent life experiences – especially those associated with their social identity, which is closely related to social groups, social norms, laws and policies. The findings show that psychological perspectives that focus solely on individuals do not suffice to capture the richness of participants’ experiences. 5 Accordingly, a life history perspective, which uses the TTM to analyse the participants’ accounts, is viewed as a powerful lens through which to explore their experiences and how these are linked to their environmental behaviours. Six binary practices are viewed in this study as key components of such behaviours: conforming/transforming action; compulsory/optional action; direct/indirect action; public/private-sphere action; activist/non-activist action; and biospheric/anthropocentric-oriented action. The conceptual and methodological contributions of these findings pay particular attention to two items: a model that reconceptualises the contextualised processes of environmental behaviour change by encompassing critical social and psychological factors; and the methodological combination of using constructivist grounded theory, a life history approach, and the TTM. In terms of implications for policy, the findings strongly suggest that the Malaysian government needs to establish an explicit policy for conducting ROEE, and that the approaches to learning espoused by ROEE are in need of serious revision. Other research implications include the need to establish an officially-endorsed policy on ROEE and non-formal education by Malaysian government officials.