Student Sustainability Consciousness : Investigating Effects of Education for Sustainable Development in Sweden and Beyond

Abstract: Environmental and sustainability education has been an important part of education worldwide for many years, aiming to foster pro-environmental behavior among young people. Education for sustainable development (ESD) and its teaching components holism (the approach to the content) and pluralism (the approach to teaching) has been launched as the educational approach to support this aim by empowering young people with action competence for a sustainable future. Environmental and sustainability certifications are commonly used by schools as support in their ESD-implementation efforts. To date, scholarly attention to, and critical reflection on the effects of such certification on students’ perceptions of sustainability have been limited.This doctoral thesis focuses on this gap in ESD research through five large-scale studies, four of which were conducted in Sweden and one in Taiwan. Questionnaire instruments measuring students’ sustainability consciousness (SC) and their experiences of ESD were developed for the project.  In total, 2 413 students in Sweden and 1 741 students in Taiwan (grades six, nine and twelve) participated by filling in the SC questionnaire. The Swedish students also filled in questionnaires about their experiences of ESD at their schools in terms of holistic approach to content and pluralistic approach to teaching.The results question the impact of schools’ environmental and sustainability certification on students’ SC. The results also show the importance of holism and pluralism in ESD for students’ SC, regardless of whether schools were certified or not. Moreover, the findings reveal an adolescent dip in students’ SC as well as a gender gap, both of which were reinforced among students in the certified schools.Given the findings, this thesis can give more generalizable guidance for schools and certifying organizations to further reorient ESD towards teaching and learning approaches that have an effect on student SC.