Student views of environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainable development and their interconnectedness : A search for the holistic perspective in education for sustainable development

Abstract: The work in this thesis centers on upper secondary students’ views of the environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainable development and their interconnectedness. The focus has been to study the diversity of students’ views in various contexts. The research uses as its starting point the aims of education for sustainable development to facilitate a holistic understanding among students, which implies the consideration of environmental, social and economic perspectives when dealing with issues of sustainability.A mixed methods and iterative approach was applied in this research. Two data sets were collected: one larger-scale data set from 638 students in grade 12 (aged 18-19) on science and social science programs, and one smaller set involving 18 students of similar age and programs. In the first data collection exercise, the students responded to questionnaires investigating their sustainability consciousness and decision-making within different everyday contexts. The aim of the second data collection exercise was to study, in-depth, patterns of students’ views on the interconnectedness of sustainability dimensions. The results reveal a diversity of student views that specifically relate to the economic dimension in sustainable development. The economic dimension is perceived differently in their sustainability consciousness, and when they encounter the economic dimension in various sustainability contexts. Moreover, there are four distinctly different beliefs among students about the interconnectedness of the economy and sustainable development. The four beliefs are identified as the un-differentiating positive, the nuanced ambivalent, the two-way convinced and the critical, differing in their arguments about the interconnectedness of environmental, social and economic dimensions. The findings indicate the potential resource students’ views and different contexts can represent in teaching that aims at perspective-shifting and learning about the complexity and dynamic nature of sustainability issues.