Publication Date


Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Doctor of Education in Curriculum and Instruction


Curriculum, Instruction, and Foundational Studies

Major Advisor

Jennifer Snow, Ph.D.

Major Advisor

Richard Osguthorpe, Ph.D.


Scott Willison, Ph.D.


Sara Fry, Ph.D.


David Gabbard, Ed.D.


The research herein focuses on how early school leavers described why they left school, their school experiences, and their beliefs about school’s purpose in their lives. This interpretive, multiple case study is based on 21 semi-structured interviews with early school leavers, a Likert-scale survey generated from the themes that emerged in the interviews, as well as national and school policy documents, evaluative reports on education and social issues, and various media pertaining to youth and education (Stake, 2005a). In order to understand the perspectives of participants, I tie them into the larger sociocultural, historical and economic context.

Although secondary education can be a financial burden for many Belizeans, the findings show that school became financially inaccessible for only a minority of participants. For the rest, issues of affordability combined with a particular trajectory of disengagement often informed other more primary reasons for leaving. Most participants were either excluded by school policies or left because of experiences within school, often culminating in a final event of leaving. Both participants’ lived experiences of social inequalities within schools, as well as their own “coming of age” outside of schools, reflected in themes such as motherhood, pregnancy and living with a partner, often led to their leaving school early. Themes herein are situated in Smyth and Hattam’s (2004) recognition that adolescents often experience two strands of identity formation, one that is centered on forming a sociocultural identity and the other on transitioning to economic independence. These strands of ‘becoming somebody’ often clashed with the specific ways, through school practices and policies, schools set about “making somebody.”

Beliefs about both the legitimacy of a school and the utility of the diploma in helping one navigate the transition from school to work figured prominently. These beliefs reflected both the colonial legacy of an unequal secondary school system, as well as perceptions of the current socioeconomic realities, in this case influenced heavily by a local economy based primarily on tourism. Participants’ assessments of the way one attains a certain type of job, largely based on either social capital or a much higher degree, diminished the value of a high school diploma as a terminal degree.

These findings illustrate the need to give priority to the commonly silenced perspectives of early school leavers as a way to understand how they experience school and how they think about and negotiate the school to work transition. Furthermore, this research demonstrates that early school leaving must be looked at, as Erickson (1987) discussed, as “co-constructed.” Leaving school early was not something that participants did on their own, but rather schools - their policies and practices, often resulted in excluding the same students whom they sought to serve. Both the schools and the perspectives of early school leavers reflect the larger historical, sociocultural, and economic forces of which they are a part. As this research demonstrates, taking the larger context into account is necessary to gain a better understanding of the questions investigated herein.