School of Social Sciences

Postgraduate profiles

Postgraduate students research a broad range of topics across the School disciplines.

  1. Current postgraduates
  2. Graduated students


Kelsie Prabawa-Sear


Start date

Jun 2013

Submission date

Kelsie Prabawa-Sear

Kelsie Prabawa-Sear profile photo


How environmental education contributes to creating the capacity for environmentally active citizenship: A study of Senior High Schools in Java, Indonesia.


It is widely acknowledged that Indonesia struggles with some of the most serious environmental problems on the planet and at the same time has a low quality education system that is not improving and compares unfavourably with those of its Asian neighbours. Both of these issues are complex and important for Indonesia going forward. This research aims to contribute to a broader understanding of environmental education (EE) in Indonesia and to identify how school-based EE can contribute to creating environmentally active youth in Java, Indonesia.

Through examining the approach to EE in Yogyakarta and Surabaya it has become clear that commonly promoted UNESCO characteristics of education for sustainable development (ESD) (envisioning, critical thinking and reflection, systemic thinking, building partnerships and participation in decision-making) are not widely valued in the Indonesian education context - be it general education or EE. This leads to the question of the transferability of international environmental education programs and international concepts of effective environmental education to non-western contexts, in particular, the uncontested axiom of “think globally, act locally”. Indonesian students are ill-equipped to “think globally” even when acting locally.

While my two field sites (Yogyakarta and Surabaya) offered very differing approaches to EE in senior high schools, my research highlighted that students can be environmentally active (locally) without necessarily being environmentally literate. Most students had a weak understanding of local issues and failed to see how these were connected to global environmental issues. Despite their participation in EE programs, most students struggled to understand the interconnectedness of environmental issues (locally and globally) and the relationship between our actions and environmental outcomes. Yet these points were not deemed particularly important by any educators or government officials that I spoke to.

I argue that the difference in definitions of EE and effective EE, is largely related to differing approaches to and expectation of education in general, the role of teachers as public servants and understandings of respect and leadership. The Indonesian education system is structured so that it requires passive absorption and recitation of facts by students in order to be examined and ranked which means that it would be difficult to accommodate the UNESCO characteristics of ESD in the current system. In addition to this structural difficulty, a very strong culture of teachers as public servants more so than educators, the importance of respect and its influence on behaviour and reliance on leadership means that even with structural change, culturally, the UNESCO characteristics would be difficult to introduce.

With these differences in mind and Indonesia’s dire environmental state, it is clear that Indonesia needs its own culturally appropriate approach to EE that takes into account the current education system and the importance of societal norms and expectations. I conclude my thesis with some recommendations on how this might be achieved.

Why my research is important

There is very little research from Indonesia that examines the role that environmental education plays in developing environmentally concerned and active citizens. Indonesia is a country that is crippled with the results of environmental degradation and mismanagement in addition to struggling to meet its own educational goals. This research aims to contribute to a better understanding of how EE can help to address these vitally important issues.


  • This research is funded as part of an Australian Research Council Grant. Fostering Pro-Environment Consciousness and Practice: Environmentalism, Environmentality and Environmental Education in Indonesia. Grant ID: ARCDG DP130100051