Sociology 1 - Education - The role of education

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The role of education

Education involves building up knowledge and learning new skills. It can take place formally or informally:

Formal Education: This takes place in educational institutions such as schools, colleges and universities where people learn knowledge and skills across a wide range of subjects

Informal Education: This takes place when people develop knowledge and skills by observing what is happening around them in every day life.

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Sociologists diagree on what formal education is really for. Functionalists believe that it has positive functions for society:

1. It serves the needs of the economy (it teaches them the knowledge and skills that future workers will need in a competitive global economy)

2. Selection (The education system works as a sieve, grading people and allocating them to jobs based on their individual merit, abilities and exam results)

3. Facilitating social mobility (The education system enables individuals to move up or down the social ladder. Able students from disadvantaged backgrounds have oppurtunities to achieve qualifications that allow them to move up the layers of the social class system)

4. Encouraging 'Britishness' and social cohesion (Through their formal education, pupils identify with British Culture and see themselves as British Citizens. Schools help reinforce the social bonds that unite different people in society)

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5. Secondary Socialisation (While at school, pupils learn the culture (way of life), norms and values of their society)

6. Social control (Schools teach pupils to conform and to accept rules (e.g. punctuality) and adult authority)

The Marxist view is a critical view of the eduation system. It sees the education system as benefiting priviliged groups and reinforcing social inequalities over time:

1. Serving the interests of the ruling class (By passing on ideas and beliefs that benfit the ruling class, the education system serves ruling class interest)

2. Reproducing the class system (Education appears to reward pupils based on individual abilities. But it actually favours pupils from more advantaged backgrounds. Over time, education recreates the advantages that some social class groups have over others)

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3. Breeding competition (Through sports and exams at school, students are encouraged to accept values such as competition. If most people value competition, this helps to maintain the capitalist system because it is based on competition)

4. Secondary socialisation (The education system socialises working-class children to accept their lower position in capitalist society. For example, they learn to accept hierarchy at school and to obey rules)

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