Bilingual kids could lead in ocean action

Image: CDC, Unsplash

Participation in environmental education programmes can motivate children across diverse language groups to act responsibly towards their water environment, a USA study suggests.

North Carolina State University researchers surveyed 644 elementary school children about how motivated they were to act in ways that would help the environment – such as by using a reusable water bottle at home or refusing to use plastic straws in restaurants – before and after participating in an educational programme. The programme, developed by the Duke University Marine Lab, focused on litter in oceans, lakes and rivers, and includes lessons on how long different types of debris remain in waterways.

A survey looking at motivation to take positive action, said while most students scored higher after completing the programme, bilingual or multilingual students saw bigger gains on average compared to students who spoke English primarily at home – a finding researchers say is promising, and needs to be investigated further.

"This is encouraging, as linguistically diverse children are making up more and more of the US population and we want our programmes to resonate with everyone."

Kathryn Stevenson, North Carolina State University

Co-author Kathryn Stevenson, associate professor at North Carolina State University, said, “What we saw was that in aggregate, the programmes seemed to encourage environmentally-friendly actions among everybody, but when we dug down, most of the effect was explained by the response from linguistically diverse children.

“This is encouraging, as linguistically diverse children are making up more and more of the US population, and we want our programmes to resonate with everyone. It also highlights how young people with different backgrounds can make important contributions.

"It also makes us wonder, are students bringing these lessons home?”

The study is part of a research series looking at how environmental education can impact children, their families and their communities. In a previous study, researchers found parents’ climate change concern increases after their children are educated.

“We’ve been interested in the mechanisms of inter-generational learning,” Stevenson said. “We saw this programme can impact all children involved, but this suggests it might work differently for children who speak more than one language.

“For kids who act as translators for their family, they might be even more practiced at translating on many levels – linguistically or culturally – and we want to know how that might impact inter-generational learning about the environment.”