Achievement Motivation and Level of Aspiration: Adolescent Ethiopian Immigrants in the Israeli Education System

Article excerpt


Immigration from Ethiopia to Israel in the mid-1980s included about three thousand children. Many of them, particularly the younger ones, had not attended school in their country of origin, while others left school following the decision to emigrate to Israel.

They were all directed to the state religious system. The younger children were sent to the neighborhood elementary schools. The older ones were directed to "Youth Aliya" boarding schools in order to give them an intensive learning experience and prevent them from going into the labor market before finishing high school. The basic assumption behind the absorption policy of Ethiopian immigrants was that they should adjust to the system, rather than that the system should be adapted to meet their prior learning experiences. A special curriculum was not developed, apart from intensive Hebrew courses (Ulpan) both in elementary and secondary schools before they started the regular program.

The Israeli education system responded enthusiastically at first. To their teachers, these children appeared to be intelligent, attentive, and highly motivated. However, it soon became apparent that the pace of their progress tended to lag behind the system's expectations even though their intelligence was high (Golan, Sheftaya, & Horowitz, 1987). As a result, certain questions have been raised regarding the gap between their perceived ability and their level of achievement. Is the gap a consequence of inappropriate didactic methods? Or is it rooted in teachers' misperception regarding their motivation to learn? What is the nature of Ethiopian students' value system and how does it affect that motivation?

These questions raised by the decision-makers were the focus of the present study which addressed two partly overlapping paradigms: Achievement Motivation, and Modern Man. Various terms have been employed by different scholars in the context of the first paradigm - the need for achievement and achievement orientation. McClelland (1963) used the term "need for achievement," which he defined as "striving for success in competition with some standard of excellence." The need to achieve, which is expressed in a variety of activities and various roles, has both intrinsic and extrinsic aspects. The achievement-motivated person aims at reaching a standard determined by an inner need for superior performance and at the same time is motivated by the need for esteem, prestige, and status.

This paradigm was originally introduced by Max Weber in his attempt to explain why economic and social modernization occurred in 18th century Europe rather than in other countries. Weber (1930) attributed this development to the Protestant value system, identifying aspects of the Protestant ethic which, in his view, facilitated the rise of capitalism: individualism, activism, planning ahead, and task orientation. Inspired by Weber's theory, McClelland (1953) defined the individual correlate of the Protestant Ethic as the "high need for achievement." His central question was whether this type of need emerged only in the Protestant culture or is also found in other cultures. McClelland and his associates examined this question both in empirical research and in the historical perspective. His conclusion was that societies and social groups other than the 18th century Protestants also had high achievement motivation, such as the Chinese in the U.S. and the Jews. McClelland (1953) identified certain aspects of socialization which, he claimed, affect the need to achieve (e.g., type of authority pattern within the family, family stability, quality of communication with father, type of reinforcement, degree of independence, and parents' occupational aspirations).

The Achievement Motivation construct has been extensively criticized, with the arguments centering around the difficulty of isolating and identifying the specific environmental variables that generate achievement motivation. …