The Role of Subjective Motivation in Girls' Secondary Schooling: The Case of Avoidance of Abuse in Belize

Summer, 2010

Source: Harvard Educational Review. Vol. 80, Iss. 2; pg. 174-202. Summer, 2010. 

(Reviewed by the Portal Team) 

As in other Latin American and Caribbean nations, young women in Belize have made remarkable strides in enrollment in and completion of secondary schooling.
In fact, adolescent girls did so well during the 1990s that the usual explanations of increased access to schooling and governmental policy aimed at increasing girls' education did not appear to fully explain girls' success at the time.
In this study, the author argues that secondary schoolgirls' subjective motivations played a key role in their educational experiences during the late 1990s.
The author used ethnographic data and interview data primarily to investigate young women's reports of subjective motivations regarding secondary schooling.

Research Design

Ethnographic Data To investigate factors leading to secondary educational access for young women, the author conducted interviews with school administrators and teachers, the national minister of education, local politicians, and community members, including parents, high school graduates, and high school dropouts.

Longitudinal Interview Data
First, the author conducted open-ended ethnographic interviews with sixty of the eighty high school girls enrolled during the 1996-1997 school year.
Secondly, the author held thirty two in-depth cross-sectional interviews with eight girls from each of the four grade levels during the same year.
Finally, the author conducted at least four longitudinal interviews each with twelve girls over five years.

Conclusion and Implications

In sum, young women in San Andrés, Belize, had both a push and a pull to complete secondary education.
That is, they were pushed by actual or potential difficult experiences of abuse to want a high school diploma as a means to a good job and economic independence.
In this way, they could remove or protect themselves or their children from abuse throughout their futures.
At the same time, they were pulled by the attractive benefits of a diploma such as self-respect, status, and material benefits of a good job.

The implications of this study are multilevel.
Methodologically, this study is an example of the importance of examining subjective experiences and motivations of young people regarding their educational achievement.

Additionally, given the large proportion of girls and women around the world who experience gender-based maltreatment, understanding how this maltreatment affects their education - and is affected by it - is critical in understanding girls' education and in creating supports to bolster education and well-being.
Related, policies regarding girls' education and freedom from violence remain critical (UNESCO, 2004; Wible, 2004).
While national policy is crucial in setting tone and standards, local implementation and uptake of policies are also key.
In this case, the head of the school was an advocate for these girls' education and supported them with scholarships and policy changes.

UNESCO. (2004). Education for all global monitoring report 2003/2004: Gender and education for all. Paris: Author.
Wible, B. (2004) Making schools safe for girls. Washington, DC: Academy for Educational Development.

Updated: Nov. 23, 2010