by Freddie Obligacion, Ph.D.
What are the cognitive consequences of educational attainment among Filipino women? In addressing this question, I formulated a causal model containing structural and cognitive components. The structural component of the model was based on the sociological literature on the relationship between education and self-efficacy or the perception of personal control.
Low educational levels are associated with personal powerlessness–the perception that outcomes are determined by external and uncontrollable forces. Conversely, high educational attainment correlates with perceptions of self-efficacy or personal control–the belief that outcomes are contingent upon one’s actions.
Guided by sociological and psychological literature, I proposed that high educational attainment generates sequelae of constructive cognitions, namely, self-efficacy, favorable attitudes toward achievement, high self-esteem, high success expectations, and a strong motivation for self-improvement.
My findings reveal that the respondents showed self-efficacy rather than powerlessness.
Participants in the research also demonstrated favorable attitudes toward achievement and high self-esteem.
Success expectations, however, were relatively low. For example, a majority of the women felt that their situation three years from now would be the same or even worse than the present. The women also expressed pessimism about the outcomes of poverty alleviation programs.
Most significantly, my study demonstrated the positive effects resulting from Filipino women’s high regard for education. Like most Filipinos, Bicolanas view education as the “royal road” to upward social mobility.
Poor parents, in particular, consider education as the only legacy they can leave their children. Hence, poor parents forego luxuries and engage in backbreaking labor to invest in theirchildren’s education.
Such efforts, this study revealed, have not been in vain. Forty percent of the respondents went to college. An impressive 97% had at least an elementary education. Further, 94% possessed knowledge of different crafts and marketable skills.
The Bicolanas’ noteworthy educational achievements resulted in strong perceptions of self-efficacy or personal control. This finding is significant because it contradicts the well-established link between poverty and powerlessness. The relatively high educational attainment of the respondents served to negate the powerlessness experienced by people who live in adverse daily circumstances.
The respondents lent further credence to the adage that knowledge is power. As educators always believed, learning makes people “masters of their destiny”.
Indeed, even if people choose to control their environment or even if others grant them control, individuals cannot experience mastery if they lack the skills and knowledge required in a given situation. Choice without knowledge, information, or consciousness is not choice.
Aside from enhancing self-efficacy, education developed favorable altitudes toward achievement among the respondents. This finding supports the argument that education provides drive, direction, and purpose. Education produces “makers” who think of life “as something to be created by their efforts”.
Equipped with a perception of personal control and positive definitions of achievement, Filipino women in this study showed high self-esteem.
This result corroborates studies showing the maximization of affective reactions among achievement-oriented people.
On the other hand, powerless individuals are burdened by the belief that they are helpless victims of fate. Therefore, they feel useless and develop shaky confidence in their abilities.
Consistent with the hypothesized sequelae, findings further demonstrated that high self-esteem leads to high success expectancies.
Success expectancies rise when outcomes are seen as responsive to manipulation. Conversely, if a successful outcome is attributed to an uncontrollable external element such as luck, success expectancies fall because of expected randomness and uncertainty inherent in perceptions of powerlessness.
Success expectancies, in turn, determine the motivation for self-improvement. Persons with high success expectations undertake self-improvement efforts vigorously.
Optimism, when combined with personal control, enables people to attempt tasks they might otherwise avoid and motivates them to persist at these tasks. This combination of constructive cognitions likewise heightens the resolve to improve one’s life by acting on the environment. On the other hand, the pessimistic and the powerless face obstacles and challenges with negative self-talk, decreased effort, and haphazard planning.
The positive portrait of the Bicolanas’ perceptions, discussed thus far should be tempered by the finding that the Bicolanas reported low success expectations.
This finding contradicts what might have been predicted by the proposed model. As hypothesized, the respondents’ self-efficacy, high educational attainment, high achievement valuation, and high self-esteem should have raised the women’s success expectations. However, it must be recalled that the women were overwhelming of low socioeconomic status.
This relationship corroborates the relationship between pessimism and poverty. Pervasive cynicism and hopelessness are common among the poor. Moreover, the respondents’ pessimism could be symptomatic of a highly educated group’s unfulfilled dreams and potentials.
Note that while the average educational attainment of the women was a high school diploma and that 40% of them went to college, only 25% made it above the poverty line. This finding brings to mind the observation that the Filipinas’ achievements in education have not been effectively translated into economic advantages in the larger society.
While the women’s success expectations were low, their motivation for self-improvement was not adversely affected because of the stronger compensatory influences of high educational attainment, favorable attitudes toward achievement, and self-efficacy.
The strong desire for self-improvement was explicitly manifested in 90% of the women stating that they read frequently and monitored self-help programs over the radio or television.
Eighty percent expressed their willingness to participate in skills training programs and seminars designed to enhance their present capabilities. About 60% signified their intentions to pursue further formal education. These observations suggest the survival mechanisms of a subordinated group.
Confronted by hostile structural and natural forces, Bicolanas have maintained a belief in self-efficacy which is largely reinforced by impressive educational accomplishments.
Thus, encouraging educational ambition among young Filipino women must continue to be a key strategy in poverty alleviation initiatives. The pursuit of education fends off apathy and powerlessness among the poor who tend to look at life in the following manner:
To me, one’s destiny is controlled by a mysterious hand that moves all things. Only for the select do things turn out as planned; to those of us who are born to be tamale eaters, heaven sends only tamales. We plan and plan and some little thing happens to wash it all away.
The educated individual, in contrast, will respond to the vagaries of life with positive self-talk, greater optimism, self-confidence, and persistence even in the face of repeated failures.
A positive mindset and tenacity are necessary for women situated in cultures where sexism and discrimination continue to deny women their rightful place in society.
Filipino women, for instance, will need to contend with the push-and-pull forces in a society that encourages women’s accomplishments but imposes limits if such achievements threaten the status quo.
Moreover, the constructive cognitions that result from education will be critical factors in the success of continuing education programs.
Without positive attitudes toward achievement, feelings of personal control, high self-esteem, and high success expectations, women may not be motivated to pursue lifelong educational opportunities.
Even granting the possibility that an unmotivated and pessimistic woman will initially participate in a skills training program, she is not likely to persist at learning new competencies.
Therefore, adult education programs which do not emphasize the cognitive readiness of participants are likely to be exercised in futility.
Paradoxically, however, in a society where poverty constantly threatens the dignity and sanity of its constituents, avenues for continuing education remain a viable mechanism for survival and social advancement.
DR. FREDDIE R. OBLIGACION is an alumnus of The Ohio State University-Columbus (MA, PhD sociology) and the University of the Philippines-Diliman (MBA Honors and BS Psych., magna cum laude). He is currently studying leadership preferences and the community impact of grassroots entrepreneurship.
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by Freddie Obligacion, Ph.D.