Public Awareness – Shaping Knowledge

Jugend forscht Berlin – Produced by students of the Dekra Hochschule Berlin – Interview: Professor Seliger.

People encounter the word “sustainability” in diverse contexts and with various different meanings. Together with the growing indistinctness of this term, also the awareness of the concrete challenges of sustainability in our areas of living begins to blur. Although the topic is firmly anchored in their curricula, even German pupils hardly know how to cope with the term. This is particularly true for elementary economic and technological questions of sustainability, as first studies from the cross-sectional project “Public Awareness” have shown.

The conclusion: In contrast to the blurry rhetoric of sustainability, the down to earth matters of the approach do not reach people sufficiently – despite the fact that the success of a global sustainable development depends on the participation of the majority.

The scientists of the public awareness project examine people’s teaching and learning behaviour regarding sustainability issues. With the results, target group specific teaching material on sustainable manufacturing will be developed and evaluated by the team. The material will be made available free of charge on a teaching and learning platform, once they have reached maturity.

A particular focus has been set by the scientists on the method of “learning by disassembly” to convey the multiple interrelations between technology, resource consumption and manufacturing in global value creation networks. For example, taking apart a mobile phone in combination with games for the identification of raw materials can help pupils understand, how much and many resources are needed for modern everyday products – and thus opens up their view for the challenges of sustainable manufacturing. First test runs have shown the great fascination that lies within the subject for young people. It is this special interest of the youth to shape the futurethat the project wants to encourage and make use of.


While PA as a cross-sectional project carries out classical public relations activities with different target groups for sustainable manufacturing, it scientifically concentrates on the stakeholders of the next generation: Children and youths. First studies have shown that pupils at elementary level have almost no idea of the term sustainability yet, although it is anchored as teaching content in the schools curricula. Up to 7th grade only the ecological dimension of sustainability seems to beaddressed at school without referring to the interconnectedness with the economic and social dimensions.

the irregular stair of sustainability knowledge of German pupilsHowever, the understanding of sustainability grows with increasing age and educational level. In a survey of 9-19 year-olds with a distinctive educational background, more than 50 % of the participants could put a meaning to the word, although their understanding of its scope was often still very one-dimensional.

An analysis of so-called Open Educational Resources (OER) revealed, that for this exact target group the most numerous and most differentiated teaching materials are offered. A considerable lack of materials is obvious for nursery and elementary school children and youths with a low educational level. For all target groups it can be said that sustainable technologies and economical sustainability was almost non-existent in the OERs.
GirlsDay2013Regarding the teaching methods it became apparent that for elementary pupils project workshops had the greatest teaching success. Contents of textbooks and worksheets were forgotten after a short time, while the results of a project could be recalled in detail even several years after. In their private surroundings the interviewed children of all age groups primarily took their information from entertainment media, particularly television. The internet played a rather minor part.

As a consequence of these preliminary studies, PA develops teaching modules for the subject “Sustainable Production” with an emphasis on project workshops as primary teaching method and a multimedia approach for the theoretical contents. The first modules have been tried out at Girls’ Day 2013. It was obvious that “Learning by Disassembly” as a method with strong practical relevance can inspire older elementary schoolchildren to an enthusiastic engagement in sustainable production topics. With the dismantling of mobile phones and the identification of the contained raw materials the participants’ interest in global challenges such as resource consumption and sustainable technology could be awakened and strengthened.

Youth projects:

Download: Präsentation der Jugendarbeit im SFB 1026(

Public Relations:

Learn more about challenge, approaches and results of project PA in this Powerpoint presentation