Exploring teachers’ perceptions and practices of education for sustainable development in life sciences classrooms

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Mofokeng, Lerato Alphonsina
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University of the Free State
There are many sustainability challenges that humanity faces such as poverty, freshwater crisis, population growth, solid and hazardous waste and sewage problems. Education is one of the key strategies earmarked to respond and provide solutions to the sustainability challenges. The educational strategies seek to motivate learners to become sustainably engaged citizens through their commitment to environmental stewardship, and reflection about the interaction of social justice, ethics, wellbeing, and ecological and economic factors. One educational strategy is widely referred to as education for sustainable development (ESD) and can be implemented through both informal and formal teaching and learning devoted to sustainability. Teachers are therefore considered capable agents of change who prepare learners to be responsible citizens and be aware of the consequences of their actions and behaviour. The aim of the study was to explore teachers’ perceptions and practices of ESD in Life Sciences classrooms. The pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) for the science teaching model was used to interpret and understand teachers’ perceptions and practices of ESD in Life Sciences classrooms. The study used a qualitative research approach, a case study design to explore the teachers’ practices in implementing ESD in the Life Sciences classrooms. Purposive sampling was used to select three Life Sciences teachers who practiced the teaching of ESD. Data were collected using semi-structured interviews, classroom observations and document analysis (lesson plan analysis) and were analysed using thematic data analysis. Findings were categorised into three themes according to the three sub-research questions of the study. The themes are teachers’ perceptions of ESD in Life Sciences classrooms, integrating ESD in Life Sciences classrooms and the influence of teachers’ perceptions on practicing ESD in Life Sciences. Findings revealed that participants had different perceptions of ESD. The teachers perceived ESD as capable of promoting interactive learning, preparing learners to become responsible citizens, promoting a culture of accountability, allowing for creative thinking, and promoting problem solving and decision-making skills. Participants employed different teaching strategies such as inquiry-based approach, participatory and exploratory learning, and collaborative learning. Activities such as presentations, debates and problem-based learning were conducted in classrooms during the integration of ESD. Participants used project-based assessment, group assessment and concept tests to assess learners. Participants’ perceptions influenced the practice of ESD as all three sustainability pillars were included in their teaching. In their lessons, there was an inclusion of the environmental pillar (air and soil pollution), social pillar (interaction and peace) and the economic pillar (economic growth and business skills). Out of the three sustainability pillars, the environmental and social pillars were more practiced and to a lesser extent, the economic pillar. Participants indicated that some of their challenges of integrating ESD were lack of ESD knowledge, lack of resources, time constraints and the ATP being too packed. Participants suggests that the Department of Education intervene and provide development programmes that will equip them with the required knowledge and subject advisors and district officials should be involved. They suggest that the department release funds for resources and school trips to expose learners to different environments. Lastly, the Life Sciences ATP should incorporate ESD concepts.
Dissertation (M.Ed. (Mathematics, Natural Sciences and Technology Education))--University of the Free State, 2023
education for sustainable development, ESD integration, sustainability pillars