Many teenagers in OECD countries lack environmental science grounding, study shows


31/03/2009 - Teenagers in OECD countries are mostly well aware of environmental issues but often know little about their causes, raising questions about how well societies will be equipped to tackle such challenges in the future, according to a new OECD publication.


According to data published in“Green at Fifteen?" ,the latest OECD report on findings from its PISA study, more than 90% of an extensive sample of 15-year-old school students were familiar, for example, with issues relating to air pollution, nuclear waste and water shortages.


However, almost half were unable to identify a single source of acid rain, such as factory or automobile emissions. The best score came from Finland, where three out of four were able to give an answer. In Turkey, by contrast, only one in four students could respond. 


Overall, the PISA tests showed widespread awareness among teenagers about environmental issues, coupled with a sense of responsibility and optimism. But the results also showed variations in competence in environmental science from one country to another and a lack of realistic appreciation on the part of students doing poorly in this area of the effort and time needed to address environmental problems.


If as tomorrow’s voters and taxpayers they remain unconvinced of the scale of the challenges, OECD experts warned, they will be unlikely to be ready to bear the cost of forward-looking investments in these areas.


“Today’s 15 year olds will be the scientists, politicians, consumers, innovators and voters of tomorrow, and their actions and attitudes will determine whether the world successfully addresses unprecedented risks to the global environment,” OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría commented.


“This survey shows that in many countries and social groups, awareness is high but levels of knowledge and understanding need to be raised. Without this, there is a risk that ignorance will lead to complacency and inaction."


On average, close to 20% of students in OECD countries were able to tackle the hardest environment-related science questions, such as finding alternative explanations for the increase of CO2 emissions and the rising temperature of the earth. In four OECD countries, Canada, Finland, Japan and Korea, more than 25% students answered this question correctly.


At the other end of the scale, however, an average 16% of students were unable to cope with basic environment-related questions, such as the way in which freezing water can contribute to soil erosion. In Finland, the best-performing country, the proportion was as low as 6%, but it rose above 20% in Italy and Greece and above 30% in Mexico and Turkey. 


Higher-performing students said they researched the media and the Internet to find out about environmental issues, but for most students learning in school was the most common source of information. While students with a good grasp of environmental science felt better informed about complex environmental issues they were also less optimistic than their peers that things will improve in the future. 


For further details and comment, journalists may contact Andreas Schleicher ( +33 1 4524 9366) or Pablo Zoido ( +33 1 4524 9607).


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