Thursday, March 10, 2016

Teaching Geoethics and Resilience at school.
An educational experiment in Aiello Calabro, southern Italy

by Francesco De Pascale
Francesco De Pascale

PhD in Geography and Earth Sciences, 
University of Calabria (Italy)
IAPG-Young Scientist Club 

Disclaimer: the views expressed in this paper solemnly engage the author

The debate on geoethics has widened in recent years in the context of environmental and climate protection and the resilience has become a key concept even within this new discipline, which has many common interest points with the geography. The analysis of the resilience is often concerned with the ability to restore the equilibrium conditions of a system affected by highly critical events, such as natural and man-made disasters. In collaboration with geological analyses and the geography of risk, geoethics forms an important component to inform the population and to further develop integrated risk management approaches that can enhance the resilience of communities.
This work aims at investigating the ability of humans to turn a potentially critical event in an occasion of growth, by converting that stressful event in a path of personal reconstruction. The experiment starts from the belief that there is a close relationship between high levels of resilience and adequate perception of a risky situation, such as that of an earthquake. The goal of this study is to deepen our knowledge on the relationship that may exist, for primary and secondary school children, between resilience and a coping style leading to appropriate management of seismic risk.
More precisely, it is desired to verify the existence of any link between a good/appropriate resilience and a good/appropriate risk management. Therefore, a survey was conducted with the following objectives:

  • To bring out the knowledge actually possessed by the children on geoethics and terminology specific to the earthquake, and their perceptions related to earthquakes.
  • To compare the knowledge and opinions of children on seismic phenomena in order to eventually highlight differences or similarities that may occur between the primary and secondary schools' children.
  • To use the data collected as information to design and implement new activities and new information tools aiming at improving the activities of seismic prevention, so that they are better targeted and tailored to the needs and expectations of young people, and the population as a whole.

The survey was conducted at the primary school of Aiello Calabro (Calabria, Southern Italy), as part of the PON project (National Operational Programmes, “We improve our skills: Educational program on native language communication”) with 14 children, and at the secondary school, with 7 children. 
Prior to the administration of questionnaires, classroom lectures on the principles of geoethics  and on the correct behaviour to adopt in case of an earthquake were delivered. They were followed by a discussion on the effects and causes of the disastrous earthquake that occurred in Nepal on the 25th of April 2015.
The first questionnaire focused on the topic of resilience and consisted in 15 five-points Likert scale questions ( The second questionnaire consisted in 27 questions of mixed nature. Seven questions dealt with Geoethics (six multiple-choice questions with single answer requested and one open-ended question).  The other 18 questions referred to the perception of seismic  risk as well as to behaviour and reactions during and after the quake (multiple-choice questions with single answer requested or multiple answers allowed). An open-ended question allowed the children to describe their experience of an earthquake. The last question consisted in the design of a mental map on an imaginary earthquake that would occur while the student is in class with her/his peers and the teacher, or when the student is at home.
In the context of this blog post, the author will focus on the geoethical questions. To the question 1, "What is geoethics?" only 36% of primary school students gave the right answer, which is "it consists in the investigation and reflection on values and principles that should guide actions and appropriate behaviour towards the geosphere". In the secondary school, 57% of the students chose the correct answer.
The question 2 "Geoethics is about...", 86% of primary school children gave the right answer (“Ethics of Earth Sciences”), along with 71% of secondary school students.
79% of primary school children and 86% of secondary school students chose the right answer ("Geosciences, Philosophy, Sociology and Geography") to the question 3: "Geoethics represents the meeting point between ...".
The same percentages (79% and 86%) of children of primary and secondary school think that "the intervention of the geologist in the Earth system has important similarities with the role of the physician towards the patient" (question 4).
To the question 5 "Geoethics is characterized by ...", 29% of children of primary school chose the answers A) "the fact of studying the Earth" and B) "the fact that  it deals only with natural phenomena", while 42% chose the answer C) "for its interdisciplinarity". 57% of secondary school students chose answer A and 43% the answer C. We may consider answer A adequate, answer B inadequate and answer C excellent, because geoethics is mainly characterized by its interdisciplinary approach, along with the geography.
As for the Question 6 (multiple choice), "Among other issues, geoethics also deals with...", 36% of primary school children opted for the answer A) "pollution and waste problems, greenhouse effect and climate change" and 14% answered C) "the promotion of correct information about hazards and risks of the territory, the promotion of the development of environmentally friendly technologies", both answers considered as adequate. Inadequate, instead, was the answer B) "Biology and chemistry", chosen by 29% of children of primary. All secondary students chose answer A, and 57% also answered C.
To the question 7, only 36% of children of primary school chose the right combination of words to be included in the Hippocratic Triangle, while all secondary students chose the right combination (Physician / Geoscientist – Illness / Planet Illness – Patient / Society / Humankind) (Matteucci et al. 2012).
Regarding the topic of resilience, the obtained results allow to divide the primary school children into three groups: those who have obtained a score from 1 to 25 fall within the range of "minimum resilience", children who have achieved a score from 26 to 50 fall within the range of "average resilience" and finally, children who have obtained a score from 51 to 75 fall within the range of the "maximum resilience". No one presented a minimum level of resilience. 86% of primary and secondary school's children fall within the range of "maximum resilience", while 14% are in the range of "average resilience". 
The scoring is done through a process that Rensis Likert called "simple method", which has become the standard in the numerical coding of opinions expressed on affirmations. 
These results show that the children have a good awareness of the importance of geoethics. During the frontal lesson, some intuitive children understood the connection between geoethics and correct behaviour to adopt in case of earthquake. In fact, geoethics promotes the support to the efficient management of emergencies, in order to protect the community from geological hazards during critical moments.
Most of the students involved in the survey confirmed the initial hypothesis of the survey, i.e. high levels of resilience correspond to high levels of risk management. By comparing the scores related to the resilience with those related to the risk management, a direct proportionality has been found. This result is in line with results already obtained by other researchers (Simone and Rocca, 2014), that verified the close links existing between being resilient and having an appropriate/good risk management. Therefore, the connections observed can be read substantially as a consequence of the fact that the resilience has a positive influence on the ability to manage traumatic events in a positive way, to reorganize positively their lives in front of difficulties and thus to perceive a risk (such as the one related to a seismic event) trying to find solutions and implementing appropriate behaviours for themselves and for others (such as by helping classmates in difficulty).


Matteucci R., Gosso G., Peppoloni S., Piacente S., Wasowski J. (2012). A Hippocratic Oath for geologists? Annals of Geophysics, 55 (3), pp. 365-369, doi:10.4401/ag-5650.

Simone G., Rocca L. (2014). La percezione del rischio sismico nei bambini, Ambiente Società Territorio. Geografia nelle scuole, 59, 6, pp. 26-32 (in Italian).

Figure captions
Figure at the top: A moment of the lesson during the PON project in primary school: the explanation of the Hippocratic Triangle
Figure in the middle: Mental map which represents the particular moment of confusion during the earthquake. The map is drawn by a student of the secondary school.