Original Research

Exploring the quality of pre-service teachers’ critical analysis of cartoons within environmental contexts in the Life Sciences

Rajendran P. Pillay, Samantha Govender
The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa | Vol 17, No 1 | a863 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/td.v17i1.863 | © 2021 Rajendran P. Pillay, Samantha Govender | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 22 June 2020 | Published: 25 May 2021

About the author(s)

Rajendran P. Pillay, Department of Nature Conservation, Faculty of Natural Sciences, Mangosuthu University of Technology, Durban, South Africa
Samantha Govender, Department of Curriculum and Instructional Studies, Faculty of Education, University of Zululand, Empangeni, South Africa


The world is presently facing a myriad of environmental challenges. One way to address these challenges is through the development of cognitive abilities to analyse environmental issues and respond to them appropriately. There are a number of approaches used in education processes to develop the cognitive abilities of students; one of them is the use of conceptual or reasoning cartoons. This article reports on an exploratory study of the quality of pre-service teachers’ cognitive abilities in the analysis of three conceptual cartoons depicting real environmental challenges. The study was interpretivist in nature and followed a case study design. The participants were a convenient sample of students (n = 32) at year level three, at a Southern African residential university, doing a Life Science’s teaching methods module. Students were required to analyse three environmental cartoons which they had not previously seen or discussed. The responses were coded according to the basic analytical steps of critical thinking and analysed qualitatively and quantitatively. The results showed that most responses were framed as descriptions of the cartoon rather than higher order analytical thinking; most students were unable to follow a sequence of analytical thinking; presentation of cognition was textual; and most pre-service teachers’ responses were phrased in a way that made it seem as if they were not part of the environmental issue. It is recommended that Life Sciences’ methodology pre-service teachers be categorically developed in analytical thinking of environmental issues, as they have a crucial role to play as future citizens.


cartoons; environmental dimensions; sustainability; constructive learning; cognitive quality.


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