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Why do Guanajuato students quit school?

By Antonio De Jesús Aguado

What will you do after you finish your degree? is a common question asked of students pursing basic education. Regardless of their answers, a high percentage of them in fact do not achieve their goals due to issues inside and outside of school that lead them to abandon their education. The school year 2011–2012 will end in a few months, and the Secretaría de Educación Pública (Federal Education Department) has begun examining the distribution of primary and secondary students in Guanajuato in an attempt to reduce the number of those who drop out of school, currently 76 students per 1,000 in secondary and 31 per 1,000 in primary school, out of a total enrollment of more than a million students.

What are the internal and external factors that lead students to abandon their educations? Why do more males than females leave school? Why is San Miguel de Allende one of the municipalities with the highest attrition rates? What is the government doing to curb this desertion of studies?

Education in Guanajuato

Sylvia Van Dijk Kochertaler, a researcher and teacher at the Universidad de Guanajuato, says that the level of development of a state is marked by the level of education among its population.  In the early 1990s, Guanajuato was one of the states with the highest rate of backwardness in terms of education in the country, slightly better than that of Chiapas, Oaxaca and Guerrero. “It was negligence on the part of past governments; because this is an agricultural state, [lower levels of education] allowed the hiring of cheaper labor for the campo, so in the interest of keeping salaries low the government never had an interest in improving the situation,” said Van Dijk. She also commented that the last governor of the PRI party in Guanajauto, Rafael Corrales Ayala (1985–1990), was the first governor interested in guaranteeing the right to education for guanajuatenses.

Abandonment, desertion and expulsion

Quédate en la Escuela (Stay in School) is a state program launched in 2006 with the aim of identifying those students who have left school and helping them return to the classrooms. To achieve this, the government began a unique program, Tablero de Supervisores (Board of Supervisors), through which they collect information on students who drop out. Van Dijk remarked that Quédate en la Escuela was launched with several faults, because they used to only consider the reasons given by teachers for why the students had left school (lack of interest by the students, family problems and economic situations). “In our culture it is complicated to accept that, as teachers, we also can be part of the problem.”

Quédate en la Escuela only considered external factors, not the internal reasons why students leave school, due to the lack of a background study, so the Universidad de Guanajuato decided find out what the children felt or thought through a study called Escolares de Guanajuato, entre el Abandono, la Deserción y la Expulsión. Research began in 2007 and ended in 2010, and findings revealed that some students left school for reasons related to the institutions themselves.

Research findings

The research, conducted by Van Dijk and others, showed that the reasons students leave school are varied. Van Dijk said, “We found seven reasons that provoke abandonment of education. There are external factors such as socioeconomic problems, lack of family support, emotional problems provoked within and outside the school that are not resolved, but also there are internal problems within the schools. Some students feel bored, do not feel motivated and do not see a good reason for going to school. Some think the teachers are excessively strict. They don’t see how the school system will help them achieve their goals in life. If they want to be bricklayers, mechanics or work at something different where they will be making money, school is not important; it is more important for them to work as assistants or apprentices and be good at their trade by the age of 18. That is more important to them than sitting in a chair in the classroom.”

Another study conducted by a student at Guanajuato University showed that parents in Guanajuato are comfortable with the strictness of the teachers. To the question What motivated you to enroll your sons in school? parents responded that they wanted them to demonstrate that they had gone to school, to obey their parents, and not become delinquents. “They did not say that they wanted a better quality of life for their sons, or better jobs. What the parents are looking for is obedience from their children. They want to domesticate the human being—that is what our current culture wants,” added Van Dijk.

San Miguel among the municipalities with highest dropout rates

Van Dijk also commented that other research has shown that in the urban areas of municipalities such as León, Dolores, Celaya, Irapuato and San Miguel de Allende, among others, attrition is higher because these municipalities have a larger urban population and classes in the schools can be made up of more than 50 students. One example is the Heroínas Insurgentes School. The students in the city have also found out that education will not help them to get a better job. “If you to to school you will have a better quality of life” is just a speech,” says Van Dijk. If the students go to school and learn how to solve conflicts without violence, they will have a better quality of life. What is happening is that the school is not achieving that promise. Being able to find work is more important than academic preparation at all levels for these children. Having contacts with anybody who can guarantee them a job is more important than being in a classroom.”

More boys than girls abandon their education

According to the researcher, boys have more problems with the system partially due to biological reasons. When they are growing they need to be in motion, and the system forces them to sit and be quiet, so they expend their effort concentrating on being quiet. “Boys mature later than girls, and in the Mexican education system if you do not learn how to read and write by the age of six, then you are deemed a fool. In countries such as Sweden, Norway and Finland students learn to read by the age of 10. Boys will always have more problems than girls within this system, which is made for females. There are also more female teachers than males. For that reason boys do not identify with teachers and they leave school.  They also want to demonstrate that they can be good providers, so they start working after leaving school. For girls there are few job options other than being housewives, so they prefer to stay in school and there is no social pressure for them.”

Government efforts to retain students

According to Noticias Para Todos, a bulletin from the state government, 1.228 billion pesos have been invested in education and over 100,000 scholarships have been awarded during the school year 2011–2012. Ninety-nine percent of those receiving benefits have continued their education. Van Dijk said that after the presentation of the research results, the Secretaría de Educación Pública made some changes in the system. For example, those who leave school and decide to return within three months can do so if the school has enough space. Also, for those children with learning problems the government provides them with tutors who help them with homework and the concepts they do not understand. They are also examining the distribution of the scholarships under the Contigo Vamos program, which must be targeted to the students most in need.

Read more about education in San Miguel in the February 24 issue.

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