Staying in or dropping out?: A Study of Factors and Critical Incidents of Importance for Health and Social Care Students in Upper Secondary School in Norway
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The topic of this study is dropout and persistence among health and social care students in upper secondary education in Norway. The issue of dropout is a challenge for the educational system at all levels as well as for employers and society as a whole. Dropping out also affects many young peoples’ lives. The overriding research formulation for this study concerns factors and critical incidents of importance for students’ persistence in upper secondary school. The situation and the perspectives of young health and social care students (N=467) in upper secondary education are investigated. Self-determination theory (SDT) has been chosen as the main theoretical frame of reference for this study. SDT is a macro theory of human motivation, combining cognitive and affective aspects of motivation where the social perspective also is prominent. The theory is concerned primarily with explicating the psychological processes that promote optimal functioning, personal growth, and health. SDT gives attention to the importance of peoples’ life goals and motives that regulate their behavior. Goals concern the content of the long-term aims that people value and strive for in their lives, and motivation concerns the quality of behavior. SDT distinguishes between intrinsic and extrinsic life goals and autonomous and controlled types of motivation. The theory suggests that human beings have three basic psychological needs that give input to action: competence, autonomy, and relatedness. The pursuit of different goals and different types of motivation are related to people’s basic psychological need satisfaction. Four articles have been written based on studies done within the frame of this research project, each with a specific research question related to the overriding research question. The methodological approach is mainly quantitative, based on data from a survey and from a register. In addition, data from interviews were included in the fourth article. The first article explored the dimensionality, reliability, and construct validity of Aspiration Index, a measure of intrinsic and extrinsic life goals. By means of confirmatory factor analysis, the analysis revealed that a hypothesized second-order two-factor model fit well with the observed data. The findings indicate that the Aspiration Index was a valid and reliable measurement also in a Scandinavian population of young people. The experience of meaning in a learning situation is a stated goal within education. The second article examines how pursuing intrinsic and extrinsic life goals related to the experience of meaning in vocational education. The study also examines how support of basic psychological needs, perceived competence, and different types of autonomous motivation were associated with students’ experiences of meaning in a learning situation. The results indicated that intrinsic goals encouraged meaningfulness in all subjects, whereas extrinsic goals were associated with a sense of meaninglessness in vocational subjects. Need support, perceived competence, and autonomous types of motivation all had a positive link to students’ experiences of meaning, either directly or indirectly. The third article explores how intrinsic and extrinsic life goals, different types of motivation, and the experience of meaning in vocational education influence students’ confidence related to their choice of educational program, and how these variables overall relate to persistence in the health and social care track. The results showed that the pursuit of intrinsic goals had a strong, positive relationship to confidence, mediated through autonomous motivation, and the experience of vocational meaning. Extrinsic goals, in contrast, had a negative influence on confidence, mediated through a positive link to amotivation. The pursuit of intrinsic goals and vocational meaning promoted persistence in a health and social care track, whereas amotivation was positively related to drop out and change of study program. To experience meaningfulness in vocational subjects was more important for students’ confidence and persistence than the experience of meaning in academic subjects. The fourth article investigated critical incidents of importance for health and social care – students’ future educational choices. Six out of 467 students participated in this sub study. Narratives were constructed based on triangulation of data from a survey, from a register, and from interviews. With a focus on selected critical incidents in students' lives, the current part of the study showed that students with poor grades and much absence from lower secondary school could still succeed in upper secondary school if their education in school and practice placements were interesting, if they received emotional and learning support from significant adults, and if they perceived themselves as competent. The analysis also showed that the past catches up with exposed students and makes them vulnerable. In summary, intrinsic life goals, learning support as well as emotional support from significant adults in school, perceived competence in the learning situation in school as well as in the workplace, vocational meaning, and well-being in interaction with residents and children were positively associated with persistence among health and social care students. Moreover, lack of motivation, being bullied, drug abuse, criminal behavior, and personal and health-related problems were associated with dropout.