Ashley Dymock and Dr. Tim Heaton, Department of Sociology
My research examined the motives behind school dropouts occurring between primary and secondary schools in Guanajuato, Mexico. It involved both preliminary quantitative analysis as well as field research that was both qualitative and quantitative in nature. I am currently in the process of evaluating the data collected in Mexico from April to July of 2012 to provide a local non-governmental organization (NGO) with solutions to help reduce this rural educational gap. I report the status of my findings to the NGO on a regular basis and will submit a final report within the next two months.
As shown in the table to the left, preliminary research using the Mexican Family Life Survey highlighted the gap not only between the rural and urban regions of Mexico, but also specifically between the rural and urban regions of the state of Guanajuato, Mexico–the area in which research was conducted. Preliminary research also addressed access to schools, government education policies, the effects of family background and involvement on dropout rates, and the state of the quality of education provided in rural schools.
The main goverment programs that were identified in the preliminary research and studied in the villages while in Mexico are the cash-transfer program Oportunidades and the parent-involvement and teacher training program, CONAFE. Because of the number of poor households in the villages there were ample opportunities to study the effects of Oportunidades. I was also able to observe the classroom staffed by a CONAFE teacher and interviewed the students, parents, and teachers affected by the program. Furthermore, I interviewed numerous middle school graduates who had participated in CONAFE as teachers as a means of expanding their own educational opportunities.
In-field research expanded and deepened my understanding on all fronts. In the three- month period in which my research team and I were in Mexico, we conducted 123 parent/ household interviews, 44 student interviews, 3 teacher interviews, and 2 in-depth interviews with villagers who have continued on to obtain a college education. Interviews were conducted in four different villages in the rural areas of the municipality of Irapuato, Mexico. The household survey contained questions concerning formal and non-formal education at the request of the NGO which we were evaluating; as well as a full impact assessment of a solar project the NGO was considering and is now in the process of implementing. My report on education will inform the NGO about the different possibilities of using non-formal education to mitigate the potential challenges involved with implementing the solar project.
A general overview of my findings to this point is as follows:
Student access to education has increased over time in all villages. Most adults over age 40 had little to no primary education. However, through many government programs such as Oportunidades, many women (and a few men) have been able to obtain a primary education and–in some cases–a middle school education. Many of the women who participated in the Primaria and Secundaria Abierta programs expressed that while they had been given the certificate of completion, they did not feel that they had actually gained a primary or secondary education. Adults in their late twenties to late thirties commonly reported having a primary education while those in their mid-twenties more commonly reported some secondary education. Students in all villages now have access to middle school, but very few continue on to high school because of cost and distance. In rare cases, families have been able to make great sacrifices to send their children to high school in the city, but few families are willing to make such sacrifices.
A large majority of households depend on Oportunidades to afford their children ́s education. In fact, for some families, the bi-monthly government cash- transfer was their only reported income. Survey data collected information on household dependency on Oportunidades which will be included in the final report. As mentioned earlier, the other government program, CONAFE, has been instrumental in giving middle- school graduates a way to continue their education. In the most isolated village in which we conducted interviews, CONAFE was also instrumental in providing students with a middle school education, increasing middle-school enrollment and graduation rates by over 300 percent.
Through interviews with students, parents, and teachers, it was clear that all understood the importance of education as a means of obtaining a job. An overwhelming majority reported that the majority of employers in the city now required a minimum of a middle school education before they would hire an individual. This, they reported, was a driving motivater for educational attainment. Students, however, often reported that what they were taught in school did not always correspond with the skills they needed to be able to compete in the labor market. Among the skills they most often reported lacking were English and computer literacy.
Students also reported on a frequent basis that the quality of education they received did not prepare them for further education. They often expressed frustration at the fact that they had not been taught in elementary school what they needed to know in middle school; and those who advanced on to high school explained that they often fell behind other students because they had not been taught the necessary material. Again, this was most common when referring to computer literacy. The NGO which we were evaluating has since implemented a project that has brought an internet cafe to the most isolated of the four villages.
The local NGO has a long history of providing non-formal education classes to villagers throughout the region. We collected data on villagers ́ experiences with non-formal education classes provided by the NGO, as well as by other government programs. This information will show the NGO the best practices available, how they could improve, and what their strong points are. In doing so they will be able to contribute to closing the educational gap that has been so prevalent in this region in the past.