This study was designed to study adolescents' educational aspirations with a particular focus on different educational tracks. A better understanding of the background of educational aspirations might help to tailor more effective intervention programs aimed at enhancing success in the educational system, and consequently increasing chances in the job market. Our findings indicate that stimulating a friendly atmosphere at school, a positive attitude towards school, encouraging fathers providing social support as well as strengthening adolescents' sense of coherence might increase the educational aspirations of young people. Adolescents in different educational tracks require different approaches. Only attitudes towards school proved to be a significant factor of educational aspiration in all three educational tracks. While educational aspiration among grammar school students seems to be sensitive to the father's education, among specialised secondary schools and vocational school students the mother's education and perceived social support from fathers contribute significantly to educational aspiration.
Based on the literature [7
], we expected differences in the occurrence of educational aspirations with regard to the type of educational track, and our findings were in line with this. The higher a student's educational track level, the higher the probability that he or she will put further education into the plan. Allocation to a specific educational track is determined by several factors, including cognitive capacity, teachers' recommendations and parents' and student's educational aspirations. So it might be expected that those with higher and stronger educational aspirations are more prevalent in higher educational tracks. Nevertheless, the educational system is open and flexible with regard to further education. Taking into account the crucial role of education in the demanding job market, it might be worthwhile to stimulate educational aspirations among adolescents from all educational tracks. The aim should not be university education for everyone, but the highest possible qualifications for everyone. Moreover there are at least two studies [28
] indicating that students from poorer socioeconomic background might be disadvantaged in their formation of educational aspirations, which might be a root cause for their underachievement. Greenhalgh et al. [29
] provided a qualitative analyses focused on socioeconomic variation in application to medical schools and revealed that lower participation of able pupils from poor backgrounds seems to be associated rather with identity, motivation and cultural framing of career choices rather than with lower levels of actual knowledge.
Using survey data taken from secondary school pupils, Werfhorst and Hofstede [28
] examined two explanatory mechanisms for educational inequality: (1) cultural reproduction theory explaining educational inequalities through cultural differences between classes and (2) relative risk aversion theory pointing out between-class variation in the necessity of pursuing education at branching points in order to avoid downward mobility. They concluded that the cultural reproduction theory is valid for school performance, while relative risk aversion theory is valid for educational aspiration [28
Based on health selection theory [19
], we expected a significant contribution of health into the model explaining variation in educational aspirations, but our findings here were contradictory. Self-rated health, usually a good measure of several aspects of health [22
], had no significant effect on educational aspirations. We did not consider the effect of psychological health, and special attention should definitely be paid to chronically ill, disabled adolescents or adolescents with higher vulnerability to illness (frequently ill), as low well-being, frequent school absence or longstanding health limitations might significantly affect the development of educational aspirations. The role of indirect health selection via disablement or unfitness is discussed by West [30
Our findings indicate that parents' education is important for the development of educational aspirations, which is in line with the status attainment model [3
] and supported by the literature [7
]. Parents with higher education have more potential to create an environment stimulating higher educational aspirations, offering the stimuli needed for the development of educational capacity, and they might express their normative expectations with regard to their children's future education. After dividing the sample according to educational tracks, differences in sensitivity to parents' education were revealed: Educational aspirations among grammar school students were stimulated by a higher father's education, but among specialised secondary school students or apprentices it was a higher mother's education which played a significant role. A greater impact of a mother's education in comparison with a father's education was also found in a study by Zuckerman [34
]. We previously found [35
] that only one-third of adolescents are on an educational track lower than that of their parents' education. Up to 20% of adolescents moved upward, and the remaining half of the adolescents followed an educational track similar to that of their parents [35
]. While educational track may have represented intergenerational mobility in the past, educational aspiration indicates potential intergenerational mobility in the future. Of particular interest is the group which might move up, i.e. those in lower educational tracks who might move up. In this group, a higher educational level of the mother seems to be a protective factor regarding downward mobility, as it is a factor contributing to upward social mobility.
Financial issues related to education are important particularly in low socioeconomic groups with scares financial resources. Investing family income in the educational status of their kids requires specific values (cultural capital) as well as the financial means (economic capital) to do so. Financial issues concern not only the costs of the education itself, but also related costs (student housing, educational tools, etc.) and predictable losses of family income (like loss of additional income from the adolescent concerned). Value issues concern the symbolic and functional importance that parents associate with the achievement of a higher educational degree. Thinking about the future, adolescents may take into account not only their own wishes, parents' values and expectations, and their estimates of possible success or failure, but also the expected costs and losses due to the study. Those who reported doubts about the affordability of study were more likely to put further education in the plan than those who never reported these doubts often or very often. This finding is in line with cultural capital theory which explains that an individuals' ability to deal with insecurity and ambivalence is part of social class based cultural capital [36
]. Children "learn" in their family that the pros and cons of higher education need to be considered when planning for the future. In line with this reasoning, our results indicate that those who put further education into their plan tend to consider also the possible financial costs and consequently perceive related economic stress. In families with low financial resources the result of this consideration is likely to turn out different from those in better financial conditions. On that, our findings suggest, that for those who had „given up" further education related financial problems are no longer an issue.
Studies of educational aspirations have focused mostly on parents' involvement and parents' support for learning [9
], while our study shows that a more general measure like social support is also sufficiently sensitive to catch the differences between a more and less stimulating family environment. Our findings confirmed the effect of perceived social support from the father, but not from the mother on educational aspirations, which is a contradictory finding with regard to the literature [14
] explored the peer group as a context for the development of adolescents' motivation and achievement in school. According to that study, adolescents tended to affiliate with other students who had academic characteristics similar to their own. Peers have an influence on adolescents' liking and enjoyment of school, but not on their beliefs about the importance of school. Particularly among non-academic educational tracks, we found an association between higher perceived social support from friends and a lower probability of putting further education into the plan. It might be hypothesised that well-settled attendees of non-academic educational tracks (those perceiving high social support from friends), an environment in which educational aspirations are much less prevalent compared with the academic educational track, might tend to affiliate with their less ambitious peers, which might keep their educational aspirations low as well.
Attitudes towards school seem to be the main condition for the development of educational aspirations across all educational tracks, and not just within upper SEP adolescents, as was found in an Australian study [17
]. Our findings indicate that schools may have the potential to stimulate educational aspirations and be an important player in strategies aimed at diminishing the cumulation of socioeconomic disadvantage via the educational system.
And finally, meaningfulness among grammar school students, manageability among specialised secondary, and comprehensibility among vocational school students may contribute to the probability of their putting further education into the plan, which partially supports the hypothesis of Lundberg [12
] on the role of sense of coherence in shaping socioeconomic inequalities in health via the educational system. Our findings may be interpreted as meaning that social sources (supportive family and school environment) and individual sources (sense of coherence) counteract the effect of low SEP on educational aspiration.
The important strengths of our study are its high response rate and the fact that it included a wide range of variables, including adolescents' economic background (family SEP), social background (family social support, school, friends) and individual variables (gender, health, sense of coherence) in one analysis. However, we did not measure data from parents, such as their former involvement in school, and parents' previous educational aspirations. Similarly, we did not check the educational status and occupation of parents. However, the latter issue was explored by West, Sweeting & Speed [38
], who confirmed rather good reliability of data provided by adolescent respondents upon parents' SEP. The sample selection procedure, the size of the sample and the high response rate support the representativeness of our findings regarding the adolescent population of East Slovak.
Finally, it may be questioned whether high educational aspirations are appropriate for every student. It may be that for some students, continuing their studyies in future is not a good option given their cognitive skills and other factors. This topic requires further study on the mediating effects of factors such as intelligence and learning skills [10
] to further tailor interventions to counteract socioeconomic health differences.