Functions of the education system

Topic 2: Functions of the education system

Sociologists and political thinkers are not necessarily agreed on the functions of the education system, however, some themes do emerge from most public policy. These are that education should:

1. Provide opportunities for children, though Marxists would tend to put more emphasis on quality of opportunity than functionalists do.

2. Sort children in terms of their ability to learn and then to provide the correct type of educational opportunities. Functionalists would prioritise this.

3. Prepare children for adult life, most particularly for work, this is known as Vocationalism.

4. Help children to become more active participants in society and to live healthy and productive lives as citizens of their country.

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Topic 2: Functions of the education system

Socialisation and education:

Emile Durkheim- claimed that the education system was an important agency of secondary socialisation.

Its primary roles were to ensure social stability and social cohesion so that society would be well ordered with different people filling appropriate roles to ensure society survived.

Functionalists- education bridged the gap for children between the close personal relationships of family life and was their first introduction to the less emotional and more universal relationships of adulthood.

Children would be introduced to the shared cultures of their society and thus would learn their place in the social world.

Marxists-see this socialisation as part of brainwashing children into accepting inequality.

The national curriculum is a basic outline of what you need to know about your own culture, concerned with teaching children how to get on with their peer group and them the basic rules of social interaction, as well as teaching them more formal skills.

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Topic 2: Functions of the education system

Economic functions of education:

There is a strong link with the idea that children need the skills for employment, this is known as Vocationalism.

Societies require a workforce with advanced skills to develop economically.

Durkheim and functionalists- suggest that schools ensure children are equipped with the skills needed by the economy of the country.

Talcott Parsons- said that schools allocate roles to the more talented and that education system has a sorting and shifting function. This idea is known as meritocracy.

Marxists- are more critical, however, as they see the education system purely in terms if reproduction of class inequalities.

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Topic 2: Functions of the education system

Social control:

Much of what happens in education is about social control.

Children learn to follow rules and behave in the way that the school requires.

Marxists such as Althusser- believe that schools from part of the ideological state apparatus because they teach the ideas of the ruling class.

Children are taught to obey teachers, and this reproduces the world outside the classroom where they will obey their employers.

Durkheim- very much in favour of very strict discipline in schools. His logic was that offenders affected the whole social group, so by strict punishment they would learn to act in the interests of society. They needed to understand that offences have a major impact on society.

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Topic 2: Functions of the education system

Functions of education:

1. Agency of secondary socialisation

2. Allocation of children to different social roles

3. Preparing children for adult work

4. Provides opportunities for children

5. Instilling social values in children

6. To provide training in logical thinking 

7. Transmission of cultural heritage and knowledge

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