Global Environmental Priorities of Engineering Students in Krakow Poland


Michael Robinson
University of Nevada, Reno


William M. Bowen
Levin College of Urban Affairs
Cleveland State University University


In the last fifteen to twenty years the importance of student awareness and understanding of science based environmental issues and problems has become more realized, notably in the US, Western Europe, the UK and Japan. Within the broad educational objective of promoting science literacy in all citizens, Bybee (1986a) suggested 12 global environmental issues (see Table 1). Through an increased knowledge and understanding of these science based global environmental issues, science may be made more relevant and interesting for all citizens. Bybee's 12 issues were agreed upon by U.S. science educators as being important to all citizens in the modern world (Bybee, 1987). They have been ranked according to their perceived importance or threat to the environment by international educators (Bybee, 1986a), college students in the U.S. (Bybee, 1986b), and more recently by students in Taiwan (Bowen, Chang, & Huang; 1996).

Educators have realized for many years that the growth of student knowledge and the understanding of science is closely tied to the personal experiences that students have (Brooks & Driver, 1984; Neisser, 1976; Pope & Gilbert, 1983; Von Glasserfield, 1988). The Constructivist Learning Model (CLM), suggests that learning is a social process during which students use what is already known to make sense of new experiences (Tobin, page 10, 1993). Science teachers who adhere to the CLM might expect student perceptions of the importance of environmental issues (threats or risks) to be related to the personal experiences the students have had with the issues.

Student reactions to the importance of global environmental problems may also be related to their world view which in turn depends upon the culture in which they grow up. According to Cobern (1993), science educators must first try to understand the world as students understand it if they are to be successful at instructing all students in science. Presumably, world view is related to the personal environment in the country where students grow up. In addition to formal education, this includes their parental attitudes about politics, economics and the types of jobs their parents have; all of which can influence the kinds of experiences children have.

Science education can play a role in helping the current generation of students understand the importance of the collective global environmental threats that all citizens face regardless of where they live in the world. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS, 2000) such threats would include, but not be limited to, ozone depletion, global climate change, the population explosion and energy sources. Because of their global nature and importance, it might be useful for all citizens to have a knowledge and understanding of all 12 of the issues (Bybee's and the UCS overlap) regardless of personal experience with specific issues. As more countries reach agreement on which are the most important environmental threats, the reality of a global school curriculum in which all students study ecological systems and humankind's impact on the biosphere (Kniep, 1986), becomes more probable. A science curriculum that includes global environmental threats could help develop a more homogeneous world view on how to address environmental threats to protect the environment and combat poverty. The fact that the number of environmental treaties reached 173 in 1994 is an indication of greater awareness and cooperation by the world governments and agencies in combating environmental problems (Brown, Lenssen & Kane, 1995).

Furthermore, using science education to provide information and experiences about global environmental problems may offer the prospect for helping students to realize the need for a global ethic that supports sustainable development. French, (1994) defines sustainable development as development that satisfies current human needs without jeopardizing the resource base on which future generations depend, or in other words, development that does not exceed the earth's carrying capacity (Postel, 1994).


The reasons for the problems may differ, but both the US and Poland have many of the same environmental problems, most of which are covered within Rodger Bybee's 12 issues. Those in the US are generally due to high consumption relative to the rest of the world; and high energy intensiveness relative to other highly developed countries such as Germany and Japan (Durning, 1992). Generally those in Poland developed or were intensified during the communist era in the 45 years after WWII when industrial progress was pursued with little regard for the future environmental problems that it might provoke (Chandler ET AL, 1990). Indeed some interpretations of communist doctrine went so far as to say that environmental problems are an artifact of a capitalist system, which in those years made official recognition of them an offense against the state. One of the most severe environmental problems in Poland, air pollution in Katowice Province, is notorious enough to have even been mentioned in one of the more recent high school environmental science textbooks (Arms, 2000).

As Poland continues to prepare for entrance to the European Community (Sachs, 1992), which has stricter Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards than Poland, the Polish educational system is attempting to raise the awareness of and knowledge of environmental problems in Polish students. The intent is for the Polish science curriculum in all schools to address important environmental problems. The pre-university national science curricula includes courses in ecology but it does not mandate that science teachers include information about air pollution and other specific environmental science problems (Republic of Poland Ministry of Education, 1992). In some of the most polluted areas, e. g. Katowice Province, secondary schools are now giving classes in environmental education that address some of the most severe environmental threats such as air pollution.

Reducing air pollution in Krakow has become a government priority in recent years. Krakow is Poland's largest tourist attraction and it has many historical building and monuments that were left intact after the Nazi occupation. Unfortunately, now they are being destroyed by acid rain and made unsightly from particulate matter of the large coal fired power plants, district heating plants and home coal stoves. Much has been done since the fall of communism in 1989 to solve the problems. This includes the closing down of some polluting factories, the replacement of obsolete filters on power plants, modern sulfur removal of effluent in some boilers, the modernization of the de-dusting systems at a cement plant (Bolek & Wertz, 1992) and a push for cleaner fossil fuels and greater efficiency (Butcher & Litzke, 1993).

Heavy metals and other toxic wastes contaminate the soil in many areas around Krakow. The major wastes are metallurgical, power industry waste, such as ash and slag, and chemical industry waste. Hospital waste disposal is also a problem. A lack of proper dumps and the illegal dumping of waste in rural areas around Krakow both pose serious problems. Soil contamination is further compounded by particulate and gases from industrial plants and low emissions from boiler houses and coal fired stoves as well as gasoline spills. The highest heavy metal contamination of dry matter are from lead (8.34mg/kg) and cadmium (6mg/kg),(Butcher & Lizke, 1993).

Poland's largest river, the Wistula, flows through the middle of Krakow and later through Warsaw on its journey to the Baltic. Many tributaries enter it from the Carpathian Mountains, south of Krakow, along Poland's southern border. The river and its tributaries suffer from many pollution problems including high levels of heavy metals and industrial chemicals, raw sewage discharges in many areas and brine water pumping from coal mines. People born after WWII are not old enough to have directly experienced when recreation requiring clean water was widespread in Poland. Older Poles reminisce about earlier times when the lakes and rivers were clean enough to swim in and eating the fish was safe. In the winters of 1994 and 1996 the Wistula River froze over in Krakow during January and February cold spells. Local residents said this had not happened since the 1950s before large amounts of brine water from the deep coal mines began to be pumped into the river. Recently some of the less productive coal mines have closed and the river is now less saline.

Poland has nearly 40 million people in a country about the size of New Mexico in land area. The main means of transportation is still by bus and rail and because of the high population density of most Polish cities, it is generally quite easy to get around both in and between cities by walking and using mass transportation. With compact development and less strict residential and business zoning laws than the US, there is little urban sprawl although this is changing as more Poles buy cars. A city of nearly a million, such as Krakow, covers much less land area than US cities with equivalent populations. Now that Poland has become a market economy and the consumption level is quickly rising, the increased number of cars is already creating more urban sprawl. There is pressure on the government to build more highways and money that subsidizes the buses and train system is being reduced with some being diverted to more highway construction. Krakow and other large cities are already beginning to suffer gridlock during rush hour traffic and Warsaw regularly has moderate to severe smog from auto traffic.

Poland has abundant ferrous and non ferrous metal resources but very little petroleum and natural gas. In spite of over 200 years of exploitation by Germany and Poland, coal deposits are still very extensive. Nearly 90% of the electricity is produced from coal fired power plants. Poland has no nuclear power and little alternative energy. In spite of an energy intensiveness double that of the US (Juda & Buzuki, 1990) a shortage of energy is not immediately foreseeable, especially if Poland continues to close polluting and wasteful industries. It is only since the end of the communist era that Poles have been charged for home heating. The price of gasoline is more than double the price in the US but only one-fourth as many Poles as Americans own cars and their cars are generally smaller and get better gas mileage.

Research Questions

This paper reports and interprets the rankings of Bybee's 12 environmental problems by 175 first and second year engineering students in the Technical University of Krakow, Poland. It attempts to extend the original research of Bybee on college students and to demonstrate a positive relationship for personal experience with specific environmental problems to the priorities given to their rankings. It also attempts to corroborate the study of Bowen ET AL (1996) in Taiwan. This paper will: 1. Indicate what one population of Polish university students perceives as the most and least important of the 12 environmental issues as well as indicate the agreement or intensity given to that importance. 2. Offer insights about the potential for using the CLM in science teaching in Poland. 3. Give Polish science educators a gauge for measuring what might be included in future science curriculum and instruction to raise the awareness of students about collective environmental problems.


Using a post-test only control group design (Campbell & Stanley, 1963), a convenience sample of 175 students was randomly assigned to a control group or an experimental group. The experimental group was exposed to a treatment and the control group to a placebo. The treatment was an incisive 10-page description of the issues.1 A questionnaire was administered to both groups to gather pairwise comparison judgments of the issues. PROSCAL, a set of probabilistic multi-dimensional scaling algorithms (MacKay & Zinnes, 1981; McKay, 1983; McKay & Zinnes, 1986; McKay, 1989), was used to determine the priorities from the judgments. The PROSCAL algorithms as applied to the analysis in this paper are briefly described in Appendix A. The priorities of the experimental and control groups were compared to determine the effect of the treatment.

The questionnaire was written in English and translated to Polish. It was initially administered to a sample of 212 first and second year undergraduate engineering students in the Technical University in Krakow, Poland, after each had been exposed either to the treatment or to the placebo. The students answered the questionnaire as part of an in-class assignment. Originally, four engineering classes with a total of one-hundred and twenty-five (125) students were assigned to the treatment group and four engineering classes with a total of eighty-seven students were assigned to the control group. For purposes of quality control, all of the judgments of students who had greater than 10% violations of weak transitivity were eliminated before the PROSCAL analysis.2 After elimination of these judgments the number of students in the control (83) and treatment (92) groups was 175. The placebo given to the control group was a description of the use of the metric system in engineering applications.

The questionnaire had two sections. After introducing the students to the task, the first section gathered pair-wise comparison evaluation judgments of the relative threat posed by each of the twelve global issues (Bybee, 1987). See Table 1 for a description of the twelve issues.

Table 1 

Global Environmental Issues/Problems/Threats


Air Quality and the Atmosphere

(acid rain, CO2, depletion of ozone, global warming, etc.)

Energy Shortages

(synthetic fuels, solar power, fossil fuels, conservation, oil production, etc.)

Extinction of Plants and Animals

(reducing genetic diversity)

Hazardous Substances

(waste dumps, toxic chemicals, lead paints, etc.)

Human Health and Disease

(infectious and non-infectious disease, stress, diet and nutrition, 

exercise, mental health, etc.)

Land Use

(soil erosion, reclamation, urban development, 

wildlife habitat loss, deforestation., desertification, etc.)

Mineral Resources

(non-fuel minerals, metallic, and non-metallic minerals, mining, 

technology, low grade deposits, recycling, reuse, etc.)

Nuclear Reactors

(nuclear waste management, breeder reactors, cost of construction, 

safety, etc.)

Population Growth

(world population, immigration, carrying capacity, foresight capability, etc.)

War Technology

(nerve gas, nuclear development, nuclear arms threat, etc.)

Water Resources

(waste disposal, estuaries, supply, distribution, 

ground water contamination, fertilizer contamination, etc.)

World Hunger and Food Resources

(food production, agriculture, crop land conservation, etc.)


The students were instructed to indicate which issue in each of the 66 total pairs is more threatening and by how much, by drawing a single vertical mark through a standard 1-100 point scale at the point of their judgment (Figure 1). The scale for each question has two ends or two "poles." The students were instructed to place their mark toward the pole corresponding to the more important of the two issues.

The farther away from the line, the greater importance they indicated for that threat. Research in experimental psychology suggests that people can and do think meaningfully in terms of these types of judgments (Birnbaum, Anderson, & Hynan, 1989). All such judgments were ordered according to optimal order for the presentation of pairs (Ross, 1934).

The second section was a set of questions that gathered personal characteristics and background information on the students. These included questions about age (all were 19-21), gender (only five females), university major (all were mechanical or electrical engineering) and whether their past education had emphasized social science or natural science (over 90% were natural science).


Absolutely                                           Absolutely                                                                                                                                                 

  More                                                  More 

Important                                             Important


100    80    60    40    20     0    20    40    60    80    100	


(acid rain, depletion of                  (Synthetic fuels, solar

ozone, global warming, etc.)              power, fossil fuels,

                                          conservation, oil

                                          production, etc.)



Figure 1. Example Judgment

The second section also asked students for (1) their major sources of information about the threats; e. g., television, magazines, books, newspapers and teachers; used to help to inform the students' evaluations of the issues; (2) the importance of the five dimensions for evaluating the issues; (3) whether they had been affected personally by any of the 12 issues; (4) whether or not they had been actively involved in any environmentally-related social or political activities and (5) whether the way science is taught in school enables students to accumulate the knowledge base needed to discuss and manage global/environmental issues.

Table 2


Selected Questions


Question #1.

Please rank order the following dimensions of the preceding issues in terms 

of how important they were in helping you to decide what answers to give for 

the questions in part I. In other words, assign one of the integers in the 

range from one through six to each of the following dimensions, depending 

on how important you considered it to be in giving the judgments. 

The number "1" is the most important consideration and the number "6" is the 

least important.

	____ geographical and human scale of the problem's 

	potential consequences today and in the future

	____ long-term time scale and possible irreversibility 

	of the problem's potential consequences

	____ uncertainly about the probabilities or consequences 

	about the risk

	____ ability or inability of people to change the current 

	trends and tendencies regarding the issue

	____ the lack of fairness resulting from different people 

	paying the costs and getting the benefits of the activities 

	which generate the risk

	____ other (please identify)

Question #2.

	Please use a check mark to indicate any or all of the following twelve global environmental issues that have affected you personally more than others.














Table 2 gives two selected questions from this set. The first question was designed to help identify the dimensions used in evaluating the issues. The suggested possible dimensions were selected from a review of the literature on modeling environmental perception (Fischhoff ET AL, 1978; Slovic, Fischhoff & Lichenstein, 1984; Brun, 1992; Gregory & Mendelsohn, 1993). The technique of using this sort of information together with researcher expertise is the most commonly used approach to dimension identification (Green, 1989). The second question gathered self-reports of past personal life experiences with the issues. The authors expected that individual past experience would greatly influence the students' priority judgments. This question was designed to provide the requisite information to test this expectation.


The Constructivist Learning Model (Von Glasserfeld, 1988) suggests that knowledge depends not only upon the information encountered but also on how the information is cognitively processed. Both the physical and mental aspects of the knowledge acquisition process are assumed to be important. A person's knowledge about something in the world--- such as a set of environmental threats -- depends not only on the world itself but also on the characteristic psychological processes or functions through which information about the world is mentally constructed. The emphasis is upon the active and creative capacity of the individual to psychologically represent the environment through mental schemata, not merely to respond to it.

The CLM posits that the respondent takes a more creative and active psychological role in determining the judgments for the environmental threats. Because priority judgments are cognitively constructed on the basis of conditions pre-existing in the mind of the respondent, two or more respondents presented with the same set of stimuli will duplicate another psychological processes only to the extend that they have identical past experience. Convergence of judgments by respondents may occur in consequence of new information, but it may be because the new information validates the cognitive processes used in anticipation of the events reflected in that information.

In summary, it is hypothesized that the treatment given prior to the questionnaire may intensify (the original pattern of the judgements will remain the same but the ratios of the judgements will increase) the judgments of the treatment group subjects by validating what they already think based on their previous learning experiences, but it should have little impact on the priorities given to the 12 environmental issues or threats.

Table 3


Environmental Priorities, Treatment and Control Groups


                        Control Group         Treatment Group

                            N=83                   N=92

Issue                  Priority  Agreement   Priority  Agreement  


Air Quality               1        low          1        low

  and Atmosphere

Hazardous                 2        medium       2        medium


Water Resources           3        medium       3        medium

World Hunger              4        medium       7        medium

  and Food Resources

Energy Shortages          5        high         9        medium

Human Health              6        medium       6        medium

  and Disease

Nuclear Reactors          7        medium       4        high

Extinction of             8        high         5        high

  Plants and Animals

Land Use                  9        high        10        high

Population Growth        10        high         8        high

War Technology           11        high        11        high

Mineral Resources        12        high        12        high



Table 3 shows the priorities given by the control and treatment groups. The top three priorities for both groups were Air Quality and the Atmosphere, Hazardous Substances and Water Resources. The agreement on the priorities given was low to medium for all three. There was little agreement on the priorities given to the next six issues but there was high agreement in both groups

that war technology and mineral resources were the least important environmental threats.

Rank Ordering of the Dimensions

When only the number one ranked dimension for each subject was selected, long-term scale and possible irreversibility of the problem's potential consequences was the most frequent number one choice (see question 1 in Table 2). Forty-two subjects in the treatment group and 38 in the control group chose it as first. Twenty subjects in the treatment group and 25 in the control group ranked geographical and human scale of the problem as number one.

Uncertainty about the probabilities or consequences about the risk was the least ranked number one choice by both groups.

Sources of Information About the Threats

Television was the primary source of information followed by newspapers, radio, magazines, books and teachers. Only one-third as many students marked teachers as a source of information as chose television. A few responded that classmates, friends and public speeches were sources of information. There was no difference in the response rate for any source between the control and treatment groups. It should be mentioned that most of the students had at least limited English. Furthermore, many families in Krakow have satellite television and are able to get British, German and French television. Many also get CNN. The broadcasts of the same issue may vary depending on the source.

Personal Affect of Any of the Threats

The issues cited by both groups as having the biggest personal affect were air quality and the atmosphere, water resources, human health and disease and hazardous waste in that order. Mineral resources, populations growth and war technology were not cited by either group. Energy Shortages was listed by seven students in the control group and by two in the treatment group. A few subjects in both groups cited nuclear reactors and wrote in Chernobyl. Air quality and the Atmosphere was mentioned by both groups at least 50% more than the second closest issue, and water resources and human health and disease were almost even in both groups.

Active Involvement in Environmentally-Related Social Issues

Only one student from both the control and treatment groups indicated ever having been involved in any environmentally related social or political activity. That student was a member of the Green's, still a fledgling party in Poland.

Science Teaching as a Way to Manage Global/Environmental Issues

In the treatment group 88 students checked "no," they were not satisfied with the way science is currently taught in the schools. Four students checked yes for satisfaction with current teaching. Forty-four students explained how teaching should change to enable students to accumulate the knowledge base needed to discuss and manage global/environmental issues like the ones in the questionnaire. The most frequent response (N=23) was that more classes in ecology are needed with information to encourage more awareness of the environmental problems, the scale of the danger, the current damage to the environment and ways to reduce the damage. Many of these students also mentioned the ignorance of citizens about where the responsibility for the problems lies and they cited the government, the military and industry. Sixteen responses cited the need for more practical work including field trips, community service, recycling and generally dealing with local issues that affect them personally. These students also asked for more infusion of environmental issues with greater connections to other disciplines. Seven students advocated for better teaching materials including better movies and books. Six students said that more outside speakers, seminars and interviews with experts were needed. Two students said that current classes were fine and that all the information they needed was supplied by television and other outside sources. Two students said that teachers are too traditional and need to be retrained to use more interesting and innovative methods. The response numbers do not add to 44 because some students gave more than one type of response.

All of the control group subjects checked no in response to whether they were satisfied with the way science was currently taught in the schools. Thirty-seven of the 83 control group subjects wrote responses about how teaching could be improved to enable students to accumulate the knowledge base needed to discuss and manage global\environmental issues such as the ones in the questionnaire. The most frequent response (N=31) was the need for more ecology classes. A number of students said they were needed at all levels and in all schools (currently secondary students are more likely to get the classes and they are more likely to be taught in the technical schools). Many of this same group cited awareness of the problems, more knowledge of the threats, and scale of the danger as being needed in ecology classes. Several of them blamed poor management (presumably the government) for the problems. The second most common response (N=6) dealt with the need for more materials including books, films and publications. Four students said that more practical work is needed including field trips, connections to industry and access to real data about the problems. Two students said more information should be infused into existing classes, one said the existing classes need to be more useful and one said teachers need to be retrained on how to teach the classes. Again, the numbers do not add up because some students gave more than one category of responses.

Discussion and Conclusions

Krakow is known to have some of the most severe air pollution in Poland. It has large coal fired power plants with few emission controls as well as a very large steel works (Nova Huta) and other under-regulated heavy industry in the area. The locally generated air pollution is further added to from the pollution transmitted from Upper Silesia, the most severely polluted area of Poland, and abroad from the former East Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Most of the students who took part in the study were from Krakow or one of the satellite cities in the greater urban area. If only because of where they live, many of the 12 environmental threats; e. g., air pollution, water pollution and toxic waste disposal; are experienced directly by the students. The push to clean up the city to preserve the rich history and draw more tourists also increases the exposure given to the threats on television and in print news. Polish scientists who are studying environmental threats in Poland also agree that air, water and soil pollution (toxic waste) disposal are Poland's top environmental threats contamination (Osuch-Jaczewska & Baczynska-Szymocha, 1992).

Based on the probable life experiences students in Krakow had, aside from school, intuitively one would expect that they would give the highest priorities to the three above mentioned threats. In light of student comments about science teaching and the need for more ecology classes it might be concluded that school has had very little impact on the priorities given to the threats. Even when ecology classes were given, the student experiences indicated a traditional approach to science teaching with little or none of the types of inquiry, hands on activities, student discussions and relevant out of school experiences needed if constructivism is to be part of the instructional teaching models. Perhaps, if the students had studied the global threats in environmental science classes with teachers who used more teaching strategies based on constructivism, they would have had a more global perspective concerning the threats. As it was, the comments by students about the need for more ecology classes stressed learning about the threats to Poland, the extent of the damage to the Polish environment, and ways to correct the damage in Poland. In general, the students seemed oblivious to serious global threats, e.g., population growth, loss of biodiversity and energy shortages, seemingly, none of which had been directly experienced by students in a ways that they perceived as threatening to the Polish environment. Many students said they needed more information and one author (the one who lived in Poland) perceived that many of them may still be on the awareness level of the three major goals (awareness, knowledge, behavior change) of environmental education (Braus, 1995). The fact that the threats were perceived as the same by both groups indicates support for constructivism as a preferred learning theory.

The results of the Polish university student rankings of Bybee's 12 environmental problem appears to collaborate the results of a study centered in Taiwan (Bowen, Chang & Huang, 1996). In their study, 278 university students (most ages 18-20) were randomly divided into a treatment group and an experimental group. The treatment group read a description of Bybee's 12 problems and the control group read a placebo article about unemployment rates in Taiwan. Both groups compared each of the 12 problems against the other 11 in 66 comparisons. PROSCAL was used to estimate the student's priorities for the importance of the problems. The results showed that both groups determined that those problems they were most directly affected by were given the highest priority. The treatment article intensified the priorities but did not change them from those given by the control group. Extensive and detailed analysis of the two groups' attribute spaces in that study provide psychometric support for the CLM.

It appears that university students in both Poland and Taiwan ranked those problems highest with which they had the most personal experience and may have directly affected their lives. The Taiwanese students were not engineering students and they had a higher percentage of females. It is not known whether a Polish sample with more females and of a different social and/or economic class than university students would rank the 12 issues with the same priorities. In another study, a sample of 102 high school students in the Katowice province of Poland also ranked air quality, hazardous substances and water resources as the three top environmental priorities but the method of statistical analysis was different than PROSCAL (Robinson & Kaleta, 1999).

Providing students with new experiences regarding the problems may prove helpful in changing student attitudes about the priority given to environmental problems. The experiences can be formal, such as those designed by teachers in a school setting, or informal such as field trips to zoos, factories, museums, nature centers, research facilities, a wildlife refugee or anywhere that enables students to understand more, on the basis of their experience, about the relationship between people and the environment. Furthermore, the high level of agreement of the control and treatment groups for the two lowest ranked issues, war technology and mineral resources, gives further support for the CLM since students appeared to rank those issues lowest with which they had the least personal experiences and that they felt had no apparent impact on their lives.

US scientists and engineers (Bybee, 1984), US science educators (Bybee, 1987) and international science educators (Bybee, 1986a) also ranked the 12 problems. They ranked population as the number one or two problem, presumably because they had the education and experience to recognize that it compounds all other problems faced by humankind. The other top rankings were given to problems that involve basic human needs; air, water and food. When US college students ranked the 12 problems (Bybee, 1986b) air quality was ranked number one, followed by world hunger and food resources and war technology. Population growth was ranked seventh, a bit higher than the number ten ranking of the Polish university students in the current study. In Bybee's studies, both science educators and US college students ranked mineral resources as number 12 in the days before ideas about sustainable growth and world carrying capacity had become educational and media issues.

Although this study illuminates the concern of students in Poland, several related questions regarding environmental science curriculum reform remain unanswered and need further study. (1) Would more environmental science education with a wider range of environmental experiences make individuals take a more global view? Do students begin to think more globally when they become more sophisticated as adults or must they be educated about a variety of environmental problems at an earlier age? (3) Would a global environmental science curriculum lead to (a) changed attitudes in students concerning the priority given to global environmental problems and (b) a better knowledge base for understanding the relationship between population stabilization and sustainable growth. Regarding the needs of Polish citizens, one might ask how the information in this study can be used to make beneficial changes in the Polish science curriculum? The curricula in Biology and Hygiene, and Environmental Protection was changed significantly beginning in school year 90/91 through an updated and revised curricula from the Polish Ministry of Education (Republic of Poland Ministry of National Education, 1992). The changes affected specific classes at the secondary level but there appears to be no

current coherent environmental education curriculum that covers all students in the primary and secondary levels. At the secondary level, much of what students learn is dependent on the course of study. For example, those secondary students who are specializing in biology and chemistry get a different program on environmental protection than those in the humanities. This may be one reason why some of the students commented that ecology classes are needed at all grade levels in all types of schools.

The ability of Poland to come to grips with her severe environmental problems is still in doubt. The government faces a dilemma as to whether it should provide more information and promote better education about environmental problems. Even when government officials have reliable information available on environmental risks, in the government's view, they may feel they do not have the means to do much about the risks, so why alarm the people. Except by moving people out of the most polluted areas, e. g., parts of Katowice province, little can be done. Moreover, whatever is done is very expensive to a government with few resources. With the collapse of communism, this same problem is being faced in Russia and other Eastern European countries besides Poland, e. g. the recent toxic waste spills in Romania (CNN, 2000). In spite of current knowledge, environmental problems continue to be created and must be addressed in all parts of the world. Improved curriculum and instruction to develop an informed citizenry in environmental science issues and threats can only provide part of an answer that must also involve a commitment from government and industry.


1. The ten page description of the issues is available from the lead author in either Polish or English.

2. The procedure for determining transitivity was to go through the 66 judgements from each student and separate out all 220 "triples" or sets of three judgements. For any give triple, called x, y and z, if x > y and y > z, then x must be > z, otherwise the triple is in violation of weak transitivity. Weak transitivity was thought to occur when a student was not paying attention.

3. These priorities are based upon distance in the solution space between the location of the probability density function representing the issue and the probability density function representing the ideal point.

Measures of agreement are based upon the standard deviation estimates for the probability density functions representing the issues in the solution space. A larger standard deviation implies less agreement.


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About the authors...

Michael Robinson has worked at the University of Nevada as the secondary science faculty person in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction for the past 13 years. He became a full professor in 1997. Before coming to Reno, Robinson spent ten years in American Schools Abroad in Brazil, Iran, and Bolivia as either a high school science teacher, a high school principal or a school director. Recently, he spent six months in Poland on a Fulbright scholarship. Long ago, he taught chemistry in Kuantan, Malaysia as a Peace Corps volunteer right out of college. Dr. Robinson also taught secondary science in US public schools for seven years before amassing over 100 articles, papers and presentations in various science education topics and nearly two million dollars in federal grants to run summer workshops for science teachers.

William M. Bowen is Associate Professor of Urban Studies and Public Administration in the Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University, and American Editor for the International Journal of Global Environmental Issues. His research interests center upon the use of psychological choice models for improving public sector decision making in economic development, energy, and environmental policy.

Appendix A

The Application of PROSCAL

The judgments were analyzed, priorities were determined, and differences between groups evaluated and measured using PROSCAL's combination of Thurstones's (1927) model and Hefner's (1958) probabilistic assumptions. PROSCAL configures judgment data as relations between multivariate probability density functions in an attribute space, the parameter estimates and dimensions of which are assumed to be homologous with the parameters and dimensions in the schemata or cognitive representation of the issues existing in the mind of the person or persons providing the judgments.

PROSCAL portrays the student's evaluations of the issues on the basis of Thurstone's Theory of Comparative Judgment (Thurstone, 1927). Accordingly, real-valued random variables are used to describe the issues along a psychological continuum. The outcome of each paired comparison judgment of two issues, with respect to a particular single dimension, is theoretically determined by the respondents psychological comparison of the values of the random variables corresponding to those issues. If he or she is comparing two issues and xi is the value of the random variable associated with issue i, then he or she is said to judge issue i as affectively dominating issue j on the dimension if xi > xj. The random variables are assumed to be normally distributed and each successive observation is assumed to be independent. Thurstone expressed the complete comparative judgment model as follows:

(1) ui - uj = zij ( Ei2 + Ej2 - 2rijEiEj )1/2

where, in this case, ui is the mean of the psychological scale corresponding to global environmental issue si, Ei2 is its variance, zij is the normal deviate corresponding to the proportion of times issue i is judged to be more threatening than j, and rij is the correlation between xi and xj.

The logic of this model can be generalized, altered, and various simplifying assumptions about variances and covariances made to result in different Thurstonian cases. The most commonly cited are the case III model, in which the covariances rijEiEj are assumed to be equal, and the case V model in which the xi are assumed to be independently and identically distributed random variables. PROSCAL estimates the parameters of these models probabilistically, allowing hypotheses tests about the details of the configuration.

Assuming the respondents evaluate n issues, a PROSCAL solution includes a configuration of n variance estimates in k dimensional attribute space, where k is determined statistically on the basis of the dimensionality contained in the respondents' judgments. A solution also includes the log-likelihood for each configuration, enabling the use of statistical tests.

The priorities for the issues are determined by using Coomb's (1964) "ideal point" extensions of Thurstones's (1927) model. It is assumed that each respondent s is characterized by a set of parameters xsk, which are his or her "ideal point coordinates." An ideal point coordinate represents that level along dimension k which the respondent considers to be ideal. When taken together, the k ideal point coordinates for respondent s specify the "ideal" combination from his or her perspective. PROSCAL postulates that the k-dimensional random vectors xi = ( xi1, . . . , xik ) i = 1, . . . , I are associated with I ideal points, each of which has a k-variate normal distribution with mean vector ui = (ui1, . . . , uik) and covariance matrix Ei2Ik. Furthermore, the n global environmental issues xj = ( xj1, . . . , xnk ), each with a k-variate normal distribution with mean vector uj = ( uj1, . . . ,ujk ) and covariance matrix Ej2Ik. Priorities are determined by assuming that one point represents the ideal combination of attributes (I = 1). This point needs only to be hypothetical since the analysis is valid regardless. The model stipulates that the less an issue resembles this ideal -- which is to say the further across all k dimensions a particular density function is from the ideal, the greater the threat it poses and the higher its priority.

Priorities are estimated by using hypothesis tests to find the most likely geometric configurations of the judgments, and then evaluating the location of the issues in the configuration relative to a hypothetical "ideal point" in the attribute space. The further any issues is from the ideal point, the greater its disutility, and the higher its priority. A formal, presentation of the theoretical rationale for this approach to the determination of priorities is presented in Zelany (1982).

1 . The ten page description of the issues is available from the lead author in either Polish or English.

2 . The procedure for determining transitivity was to go through the 66 judgements for each student and separate out all 220 "triples" or sets of three judgements. For any given triple, called x, y and z, if x > y and y > z, then x must be > z, otherwise the triple is in violation of weak transitivity. Weak transitivity was thought to occur when a student was not paying attention.

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