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Decision points and dilemmas in girls’ schooling and occupational aspirations : female secondary students in Cameroon Gobina, Euphrates Efosi Wose

Abstract

Although contemporary research on gender and education in Africa has thus far focused on girls' access to education, how and why students choose one academic subject over the other has largely gone unexamined. This study attempts to fill the void by inquiring into the experiences and subject choice-making process of 20 girls from different socioeconomic backgrounds in a coeducational secondary school in a quasi-urban town in the South West Province of Cameroon. Through a functional/liberal approach to understanding decision-making, this study draws from status attainment theory, African feminist perspectives on gender, and decision theory and rational choice, to understand the decision-making process of fourth year secondary school girls. Data was collected through participant observation, interviews and a focus group discussion informed by critical feminist ethnographic principles. The study reveals the girls' consciousness of society's low expectations for their success in areas of science and technology, and as a result they enact modes of confronting such challenges. It further discloses that the girls' subject choice decisions are progressive but complex and contradictory. For example, most of the participants described explicit aspirations in seizing opportunities in non-traditional female occupations to enhance their labor market advantage and improve on their future family lives. But these aspirations are tempered with characteristics of the student-personal self. Also revealed in the study, is the major influence gender continues to have on girls' subject choice decisions, which are a function of their socio-cultural modeling both at home and school. This is further determined to be a composite of the socio-economic status of the parents, which was found to dictate the girls' progressive occupational aspirations. The findings have implications for policy makers, curriculum theorists and teachers in Cameroon. Four implications that emerged from this study are the need to: 1) develop equitable education polices; 2) imagine curricula that are grounded in indigenous knowledge and supportive of local culture; 3) apply pedagogical approaches that validate women's ways of knowing; and 4) re-evaluate the economic contributions that women make in small-scale commerce and agricultural production.

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