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Largest Environmental Education Study of its Kind Conducted by WIJABA Founder Dr. James J. Owens

Updated: Mar 24, 2022

Our very own Dr. James J. Owens, who received his doctorate in Education from USC in 2019, completed his doctoral dissertation on increasing environmental literacy, biophilia, and stewardship in Indonesian primary schools through an interactive environmental education program. In this update, we will share a summary of the dissertation findings from our Programs Director, Dr. Darryl Macer.



A Transformational Message and Methodology

to Develop Environmental Stewards in Indonesia

Takeaways from the Doctoral Dissertation of

Dr. James J. Owens, Executive Director, WIJABA

The WIJABA environmental education program was established in partnership with Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots Program in Indonesia in 2015 as an extension of WIJABA’s mission to provide hope to children through education. In order to evaluate this program scientifically, data from nearly 20,000 questionnaires were analyzed.

Why do children love to save animals, plant trees and look after the environment?

Biophilia is the affinity to love nature.

Eric Fromm (1973) called the term “biophilia” as “the passionate love of life and of all that is alive”.

Ed Wilson (1984) observed that humans have an inherent love of nature.

However, it seems that most people trash the planet, including young people! So what needs to be done so that we will not trash the planet, and will make us feel happy to plant a tree or recycle trash? How can we help each person move through the four stages of environmental literacy: awareness, concern, understanding, and action?

The Teaching Materials Worked!

A 4 module teaching program and evaluation questionnaire was developed and used before and after the WIJABA teaching intervention. The analysis by t-test of four thousand paired pre- and post-test questionnaire responses from students, and also from their parents, showed very significant increased environmental literacy, willingness to conserve animals, increased biophilia and environmental stewardship.

The statistical reliability of this trial, the largest conducted anywhere in the world so far, was over 99% (p<0.001). These results were significant in every one of the 24 questions used, as well as in the clusters of questions that were combined to construct sub-scales to measure “biophilia” (20% increase for students; 19% for parents), “environmental literacy” (29% increase for students; 25% for parents), “conservation of animals” (24% increase for students; 22% for parents), and “environmental stewardship” (17% increase for students; 11% for parents). In other words, we could rekindle the inherent love of nature into practice.

Students and parents also were significantly more positive to action in general to be a change maker (20% increase for students; 19% for parents).

Using linear regression it was demonstrated that increased environmental literacy also increased biophilia, and both of these helped increase environmental stewardship.

The Program Works Equally for Boys and Girls

The results of ANOVA (Analysis of Variance) found the responses of boys and girls were equally positive, so there is no gender difference in the impact of these materials - both boys and girls can be agents of change to protect the environment, and to influence their parents to also protect the environment.

The Program Works Even better for Younger Students

The results of ANOVA found that there was a significant difference in the numerical differences between the pre-test and post-test results for younger compared to older children. This suggests that environmental education at the age of 9 years is more effective than at the age of 12 years. Catching children young seems to be best, but still it can transform 12 year olds.

There was no difference found between 10 and 11-year-old students, but teaching 9-year-old students had a slightly higher impact on their environmental literacy and interest in conservation of fauna, so in future trials we will include more 9 year olds to gather more data. The 10-11 year olds had the highest increase in environmental stewardship, and that was the primary target age of the WIJABA program.

Children were Catalysts for Their Parents

The fact that the environmental education programs on students impacted their parents illustrates the additional positive impact which has significant implications for environmental education of the wider community. We did not assess the impact on siblings statistically, but anecdotally the program facilitators report the impact of the WIJABA program was beyond the children in the classroom and their teachers.

Will People be Good Environmental Stewards on Their Own?

Environmental stewardship is a central and essential concept as well as being a trait to foster greater care for and protection of the environment. The hands-on activities such as picking up trash, recycling, using compost and planting trees helped make the students appreciate the classroom activities. Students continue to protect the environment even away from the warm fuzzy feeling to do something together with their peers.

Can we scale up the results?

This case study shows that it is possible to establish a scalable literacy program to expose young learners anywhere in Indonesia, and we expect in any country, to a living education that helps them as they grow up to address environmental problems.

Partnership with Government Authorities

The partnership was not just important for ensuring our work was ethical, but also for training the school teachers, and changing the way that environmental education is taught. We found that schools gave the program more time in subsequent years because they saw the difference in the attitudes of the students.

Next Steps

Although the statistical analysis was only performed for the students and their parents from Sidaojo, the WIJABA facilitators also reported similarly strong impacts in the other WIJABA sites in Indonesia. Our focus now is how to provide an even more powerful set of activities and materials as enhanced modules to develop environmental stewards.

Also we want to measure the impact on the students after one or two years. - We predict that we can see changes over time. Can we demonstrate what has been reported anecdotally - that there are positive outcomes in the career development of these students?

Summary Accomplishment

The research has demonstrated empirically that the Environmental Literacy, Biophilia, and Environmental Stewardship of both Students in Indonesian Primary Schools and their Parents is enhanced through the WIJABA Interactive Environmental Education Program in Partnership with Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots.


This program relies on all the students, schools and support provided to WIJABA and the WIJABA program team (especially James J. Owens, Ryane Acalin, Darryl R.J. Macer, Arif Darmawan and Farah Mustika Sari).

To read Dr. James J. Owens' dissertation through the USC Digital Library, please click the link below.


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