Mendoza, Dulce Carolina (2017). 'Analysing the role of social background, human agency and institutional factors on the chances of completing upper secondary education in Mexico' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.


Mexico has achieved universal participation in primary education and it has expanded the levels of participation in secondary and post-secondary levels of schooling. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore that approximately five out of ten individuals aged 15-17 attend upper secondary education even though attendance at this educational level is compulsory since 2012 (INEE, 2014).In addition, around 14 out of 100 persons who enter upper secondary education dropout from schools, usually during the first year of studies (INEE, 2014). All these facts have heightened the need for examining the factors influencing participation in higher educational stages in the education system of Mexico.

In this Latin American country, much of the analysis of the dropout phenomenon has relied on census and household surveys such as theNational Housing and Population Census and the National Survey on Occupation and Employment.  Although these surveys have offered important insights to study dropout from upper secondary education at the national level, they are limited to identify a broad range of influences on school dropout. Furthermore, previous studies carried out worldwide have reported that secondary school dropout and completion are usually influenced by several factors; e.g. social, individual and school variables (Lamb and Markussen, 2011; Rumberger and Thomas, 2000; Bassi, et al., 2014). However, less attention has been paid to examine the role of human agency dimensions and the effects of different sources of institutional differentiation using national survey data as it is intended in this paper. Most importantly, little efforts have been made to explain the dropout phenomenon drawing on an interdisciplinary theoretical perspective.

The main purpose of this paper is to examine what are the factors influencing the probabilities of completing  instead of dropping out from upper secondary schools in Mexico. An interdisciplinary theoretical framework composed of the capability approach and sociocultural reproduction theory  is used to operationalize key concepts and to provide possible explanations of persons’ decisions to participate in upper secondary education. Drawing on the capability approach it is argued that, human agency, preferences and rationality have influence on educational decision-making. From Bourdieu’s sociocultural reproduction theory, educational choices are not freely made because they are determined by cultural and socioeconomic constraints. Thus, drawing on the integrative theoretical framework two hypotheses are formulated and tested using national survey data for Mexico: The  First School Dropouts Survey, 2011. The investigation adopts a quantitative methodology which includes the estimation of binomial  logistic regression models.

The results of this study indicate that the chances of completing upper secondary education are associated with several factors: structural factors (social origin, gender, ethnicity); the type of institution attended in upper secondary education; human agency dimensions (degree of freedom to choose school); individual preferences towards schooling and with experiences in school (grades, access to scholarship and risk events). Therefore, the empirical evidence of this paper supports research hypotheses from Sen’s and Bourdieu´s approaches.  Regarding the first hypothesis, it is proved that human agency  is not only intrinsically valuable but also instrumentally important for reaching higher levels of schooling. Finally, although the findings of this study also prove Bourdieu´s arguments that socioeconomic and cultural resources are valuable for moving ahead in the educational career, this paper also challenges Bourdieu´s view on the role of freedom of choice in education.



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