Educational Aspirations Of 15-Year-Old Pupils Between Idealistic Wishes and Realistic Options
At the end of compulsory education German pupils need to decide whether to continue with school in order to achieve a higher school leaving certificate or to immediately begin an apprenticeship leading to a vocational qualification. Despite a less tight apprenticeship market in recent years, young people choosing the latter option still face difficulties in transitioning into apprenticeships because employers tend to prefer applicants with higher educational attainment for the apprenticeship places they offer.
Pupils who are aware of these difficulties might reconsider their intentions to search for an apprenticeship and instead continue their education at school to improve their chances for an apprenticeship place later on. Others might be forced by an ambitious social environment to strive for a higher school leaving certificate. Thus they will choose continuing with school as a realistic option even if their idealistic wish was to directly begin an apprenticeship. According to Prenzel et al. (1996) and Deci and Ryan (2000), positive outcomes of learning on satisfaction, learning quality and comprehension, and identity-development only occur, if the learner is intrinsically motivated, i.e. if he learns because he is interested in the learning contents and it is his own decision to learn. A pupil who feels forced by his parents to continue his general education despite his desire to begin an apprenticeship is neither self-determined nor interested in continuing school. Someone who has discovered that he needs a higher school leaving certificate in order to obtain a desired apprenticeship place is probably equally disinterested in the school curriculum, even if he acts by his own decision – although on closer inspection he is more or less forced by the apprenticeship market or regulations to choose this pathway. Either way, both cases cannot be labelled as being fully intrinsically motivated (cf. Deci & Ryan, 2000), and this can have negative effects on future school performance or satisfaction.
This contribution therefore seeks to identify factors that differentiate between pupils who see their idealistic wish for beginning an apprenticeship also as a realistic option and those that have diverging idealistic and realistic aspirations.
Ample theoretical work and research exist on factors influencing the choice of educational pathway or profession. It is assumed that these factors also have an influence on whether a pupil modifies his educational aspirations by abandoning an idealistic wish for an apprenticeship in favour of a prolonged general education at school.
With regard to vocational choice, one line of research focuses on young people’s personality, interests (e.g. Holland, 1966) and abilities (e.g. Super, 1953). Sociological research examines the influence of the social environment; for example Bourdieu (1987) explains that a person makes vocational choices in accordance with the social background she was socialized in, and Boudon (1984) reflects on the intergenerational reproduction of the social status, which leads to young people seeking to attain the educational level their parents hold. Gottfredson’s (1996) theory of circumscription and compromise integrates personal factors like interests and abilities and the influence of the social environment and its different actors. However, educational and professional choices are not independent of institutional restrictions like the lack of supply of available apprenticeship places (cf. Heinz & Krüger, 1985).
We therefore expect that a change in aspiration in the form of an idealistic wish for an apprenticeship but a realistic orientation towards a continued general education at school is related to 1) sociodemographic variables, 2) personal factors like school performance and personality, 3) aspects of the social environment, and 4) perceptions of chances of success in the apprenticeship market.
For our analyses we resort to data of the German National Educational Panel Study (NEPS) from 2010 (cf. Blossfeld, Roßbach & von Maurice, 2011). This panel study seeks “to study the acquisition of education in Germany, to assess the consequences of education for life courses, and to describe central educational processes and trajectories across the entire life span” (Blossfeld, von Maurice & Schneider, 2011, p.7). Amongst others, pupils in grade nine from a representative stratified cluster sampling are tested for a variety of basic competences and surveyed with regard to their interests and vocational plans. The survey instrument assesses sociodemographic variables, various aspects of the self-concept and career planning activities. It includes questions on the process of vocational orientation and choice, on interests and professional experience and on support from parents, peers and institutions in the process of vocational orientation.
The analyses presented here only include pupils from basic secondary schools, intermediate secondary schools and comprehensive schools, as pupils enrolled in upper secondary schools rarely leave school after grade nine. The target sample are those 1704 participating pupils in grade nine who named beginning an apprenticeship as their idealistic wish and either beginning an apprenticeship or continuing with school as their realistic option for the next year. This amounts to roughly 22% of all pupils enrolled in the schools mentioned above.
Assessed variables of relevance for our research focus are 1) sociodemographic variables like gender and migrant background, 2) personal factors which include aspects of the self-concept, attitudes and estimated as well as actual school performance, 3) variables describing the social environment like parents’ aspirations for their child and own educational level as well as aspirations of peers and other social resources important for vocational orientation, and 4) variables concerning the intention to apply for apprenticeships, related beliefs about the feasibility of these intentions, and the knowledge necessary for implementing the intentions.
We conducted a between-group comparison to detect whether pupils who consider their idealistic wish for an apprenticeship also as their realistic option differ from those who abandon their idealistic wish for an apprenticeship in favour of continuing school, regarding the four categories of variables mentioned above. In a next step, we conducted a hierarchic logistic regression to explore the combined influence of those variables that differentiate between pupils with changes in their aspirations and pupils with consistent aspirations.
In accordance with our assumptions, variables that have been discussed in research on educational and vocational choice also show relevance for characterizing pupils who at the end of compulsory education renounce an idealistic wish for beginning an apprenticeship straight away in favour of continuing school as a more realistic option. Differences between the groups were found for variables from all four categories. For example, pupils changing their aspiration are more frequently enrolled in basic secondary schools, they are less conscientious and have more friends who strive for a higher school leaving certificate. With regard to variables concerning the application process, our results show that pupils with a change in aspiration towards a realistic option of continuing school less often intend to actually apply for apprenticeship places during grade nine. As this was a filter question for further questions concerning the vocational orientation and preparation process, some interesting variables of the last category could only be studied in a reduced sample of those pupils who voiced an intention to apply for apprenticeship places. For those pupils, however, all considered variables of this category differentiated between the pupils with consistent and those with changing aspirations.
The greatest differences between groups (gauged by effect sizes) were found for variables from the social environment. In a next step, a logistic regression will show whether the dominant effect of the social environment remains when all the included categories of influencing variables are considered jointly.
Our results are important for understanding the processes that lead pupils to set aside their own idealistic aspirations for their educational and vocational future and to resort to other options they deem more easily attainable for them. The next step now is to investigate the consequences that such a non-intrinsic life choice has on pupils’ performance and satisfaction.
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