Educating Children About Bushfire Risk and Mitigation

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The need to better educate the public about bushfire risk and mitigation has been recognised and schools have been identified as a major resource for pursuing this objective. However, effective utilisation of this resource requires consideration of two important issues. Firstly, as children develop, their perspectives on causality and prevention undergo systematic age-related changes. Secondly, children’s perspectives on causality and prevention are acquired through interaction with different elements of the social context - family, friends, and teachers - and the constituent influence of each element changes as children develop.

Research in a variety of areas, including health education and road safety education, has shown that when the content of a safety message is sensitive to age-related changes in perspective and the delivery of the message capitalises on the prevailing influence within the social context, the child’s ability to understand and assimilate that message is significantly enhanced and the adoption of preventative strategies increases.

This project examined age-related changes in children’s understand of causality and prevention as applied to the bushfire context. It also examined the role of parents, friends, and teachers in the development this understanding. The outcomes include a framework within which bushfire management agencies can design and deliver school-based bushfire education programs that accommodate age-related changes in children’s perspectives and capitalise on prevailing elements within their social context, thus increasing opportunities for understanding bushfire risk and, by extension, increasing the likelihood that mitigation strategies will be adopted.

This PhD research was completed by Briony Towers of RMIT University in 2011.

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