05 SES 01, Student (Dis-)Engagement : Narratives, Attitudes towards Services and Supports, and Educational Programme Choice (1)
How might the experiences described by young people who have dropped out from school, whose voices are seldom heard, contribute to a greater understanding of the social aspects involved in processes of school disengagement?
The concept of school engagement has attracted increasing attention in analyses of educational outcomes (Fredricks et al 2004) and is presently considered to be the primary theoretical model for understanding dropout (Appleton et al. 2008). It is useful as a way of capturing the gradual process by which students disconnect from school (Finn, 1989; Wehlage et al., 1989; Janosz et al., 2008; Rumberger, 2011; Blondal & Adalbjarnardottir, 2012).
Fredricks et al. (2004) argue that engagement should be understood as a multidimensional construct involving behavioral, affective and cognitive aspect. Elements of these aspects are shown to overlap with constructs used in motivational research, with its focus on the needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness (Connell & Wellborn 1991). Concepts like affective or emotional engagement, relatedness, membership, belonging or identification all suggest the importance of school climate and social relations in understanding processes of disengagement from school.
In spite of extensive research on school dropout, Ream and Rumberger (2008) argue that social aspects of the disengagement process remain under-studied. According to Fredricks et al. (2004) studies of the importance of social relatedness for school engagement have typically been based on samples of elementary school students. They note that emotional engagement is more fully unpacked in the literature on motivation than in the research on engagement. Furthermore, they call for richer characterizations of how students behave, feel and think. Dropping out cannot only be understood by studying the conditions of families and schools, or even students’ behaviors; one must also study the way those dropping out view and interpret such conditions (Rumberger, 2011; Fine, 1986, 1991).
The proposed paper takes up this anthropological approach and presents the views of young people who chose to leave upper secondary school about their reasons for doing so. The interviews with these young people explored competence related as well as social aspects of the learning environment, including relations to peers and teachers, support from home, their sense of mastering academic and practical skills, experiences from previous schooling and views on the future.
These narratives often reveal complex reasons for leaving school, involving social, skill related and economic or family-problems. One important issue for several interviewees was difficult relations with classmates and sometimes teachers. Some had been victims of bullying, including cases with racist undertones, leading them to feel that the school environment was hostile or unsafe. Feelings of not fitting in, of rejection or inability to comply with the terms set by the leading figures for acceptable or cool appearance and conduct, also played a part in many of the narratives about social exclusion. For others a lack of necessary skills, and failure to catch up with the classmates, led to constantly feeling left out in the work and learning processes.
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