An exploration of environmental influences on elementary school attainment in rural Guatemala

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Increasing elementary school attainment globally remains a key focus for improving internationally child development (UNESCO, 2010), and for girls in particular (UNICEF, 2015). This dissertation was designed to test and

Increasing elementary school attainment globally remains a key focus for improving internationally child development (UNESCO, 2010), and for girls in particular (UNICEF, 2015). This dissertation was designed to test and explore specific areas to target to improve educational attainment for rural indigenous communities using a mixed-methods approach (i.e., quantitative survey of 264 mothers and qualitative interviews with 37 of those mothers 3.5 years later) with a Mayan community in Camanchaj, Guatemala. The first study was designed to examine the educational trajectories available to children in this community (e.g., dropping out, graduating 6th grade) by age, grade, and gender, and identified risks and vulnerabilities for educational attainment. The second study was a logistic regression to examine maternal factors that predict the likelihood of a child graduating from elementary school or dropping out in this community, above and beyond covariates of poverty and health and found that maternal education predicted educational attainment for both boys as girls as well as maternal beliefs about the importance of school for getting a job, which was particularly strong predictor for boys. The third study probed findings from Studies 1 and 2 using Experiential Thematic Analyses and Frequency Analyses to examine processes and cognitions involved in a child’s graduating elementary school, dropping out, and community beliefs and attitudes regarding education and gender equality. Findings highlight the need for interventions that are contextually and culturally appropriate and that consider complex and interacting factors of poverty, health, and gender inequality as well as maternal and community-level attitudes and beliefs to promote elementary school attainment globally.