Evaluate the Role of Education in Society. Consider Issue of Gender in Your Response. Also, Consider How Such Factors May Impact on a Person’s Life Chances. Essay: Evaluate the role of education in society. Consider issue of gender in your response. Also, consider how such factors may impact on a person’s life chances. This essay will examine the role of education in society and an analysis of inequality in relation to Gender. It will discuss briefly education and examine the different theoretical approaches to education followed by an analysis of inequality using information on statistics of inequality in British education in relation to gender and attainment.
This essay will Identify and evaluate key policy developments in education provision designed to bridge the gap of gender inequality in British education. The role of education in society has been among the major issues in contemporary sociological and political debate. According to Iannelli and Paterson (2005) education is a major factor that helps determine the jobs and social class positions of individuals in society. As an institution of sociology, education plays a dominant role in transmitting prevalent ideologies of society by providing pupils with the curriculum and hidden curriculum as well as the skills that will prepare them physically, mentally and socially for their life chances (Clark 2005). Educational institutions play a very important role in reducing social inequalities. Over the last century British schools experienced very important changes and moved from a selective system to a comprehensive one in the 1960s and 70s. Much research has shown that the move from a selective to a comprehensive system in the UK had a positive effect in reducing gender and social inequality (Leicester et al 2000; Ianneli and Paterson 2005). Gender has been viewed as one of the most important influence on educational attainment in the UK and other parts of the world.
Across European and British schools there has been a much greater awareness of gender equality in education than in the past. According to White (1980) the educational system in UK helps to prepare and shape individuals for their objective positions within the social structures of society. The Education system helps to pass on our cultural heritage from one generation to another (Nonda 2008). Although education in society has always been viewed from its direct economic benefits of teaching skills for work, many researchers believe that the role of education in society spread beyond its direct economic benefits to include political, social and cultural benefits. The political functions include providing political leaders at all levels of a democratic society and preserving the current system of government (Musgrave 1979). The social and cultural benefits include; a better way of taking care of ourselves, making friends, learning social rules, norms and understanding civic rules (Bernasek 2005). Although cultural factors such as norms, aspirations and attitudes of parents may impact on the differences in the educational attainment in society, education plays a major role in transmitting wilder cultural values and through human interactions with one another individuals learn and adapt wilder cultural values than those learnt within family group (Parsons 1959). These wilder cultural values include, understanding their history and geography. Bernstein (1975) in his paper called sources of consensus and disaffection in education emphasized that schooling transmit two cultures in society, namely the Instrumental and Expressive cultures.
The instrumental culture transmits formal school knowledge, where individuals can acquire knowledge and vocational skills, while the expressive culture transmits norms and values required for the development of conduct and character. Although Bernstein is not primarily known for writing about Gender, his work contains theories for analysing gender roles and inequality in Britain (Sadovnik 1995). The term education was derived from the Latin words Educare to raise, nourish and bring up, Educatum to train and teach, Educere to lead out and draw out, and Educo meaning bringing out or draw out (Ravi 2011). Education has been defined as “the social institute responsible for the systematic transmission of knowledge, skills and cultural values within a formal organised structure” (Kendall 2010: 462).The role of education in society has been available in the works of great philosophers and thinkers such as Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and Bernstein (Chandrass and Sharma 2004). According to Kugler (2012) children spark the imaginations of those around them when they share their stories and cultural background. Sir Ken Robinson an expert on creativity and educational motivation argues that imagination is a precursor to creativity, defining creativity as the process of having original ideas that have values and more often than not comes about through the socialization process (Robinson 2009: P 67). Education in the UK plays a dominant role in society as children most legally attend primary and secondary education from 5 years old until the student is 16 years old.
According to Robinson (2009) the purpose of education in society has three core purposes; it has a personal value by stimulating, engaging and connecting people with their own sense of possibility. Secondly education has cultural purpose by helping people relate and function even in the face of diversity. Thirdly education meets the economic needs by encouraging people to be innovative and adaptable (As cited by the Daily Riff 2011) In an effort to understand the societal change that has brought about changes in our own behaviour gave rise to the development of theories of sociology. According to Ransome (2003) the main purpose of social theory is to provide a framework for the understanding of social actions and social practices. Therefore, in order to explore the role of education as a social institution in society, there is a need to examine a range of theories that explore the role and purpose of the educational system in contemporary society. Diggens (2009) emphasized that the main sociological theories of education are the Functionalism, Conflict perspective, and symbolic interactionism. Sociological theories of Education and Gender inequality
The three main sociological theories of education as emphasized by Diggens (2009) have different approaches and different views on the role of education in society and gender inequality. Functionalism
Functionalism was developed in the work of Emile Durkheim who believed that structure and hierarchy are important in the functioning of society (Ferrante 2012). According to Ferrante (2012) Functionalism define society as a complex system made up of many social structures and institutions that are interdependent and interrelated. Functionalism sees each structure in terms of how it works together to produce the stability of the whole (Anderson and Taylor 2011, Giddens, 2009). The social structures being emphasized here include Social class, religion, race, gender, customs etc. This approach enables the discipline of sociology to analyze the relationship between these institutions of society and how they contribute to society as a whole. These institutions such as education, community, family, religious belief and customs of society depends on one another and have been put forward to fill different needs in society.
Functionalism assumes that education along with other social institutions contribute to the smooth functioning of society. This theory emphasizes that there is a relationship between schools and other social institutions and that this institutions work together to maintain the functioning of society (Ballantine and Spade 2008). In the 1950s modern functionalism was developed by Talcott Person (Ballantine and Spade 2008). During this period education was believed to be a major function for preparing young people for important roles in society. It was during this period that teachers were linked to their role in society. Functionalism emphasizes that achievement in schools should be based on merit and not ones position in society. According to Ballantine and Spade (2008) this view supports capitalism, whereby those individuals with the most merit are to fill higher-level positions in society. Functionalism sees the functioning of education to society as, helping children to be productive members of society, promoting socialization, preparing individuals for the selection and training positions in society, promoting change and innovation and keeping children of the streets until they are old enough to be absorbed into society.
The functional theory believes that if these social functions mentioned above are properly addressed, the educational system will remain stable. The Functionalists perspectives on education in society seek for an academic environment where students will learn those basic courses that would make them competitive in school and society (Kendall 2010). Functionalism is believed to have some limitations as it offers little and insufficient attention to factors such as class, gender, racial inequalities, heterosexism, with less emphasises on the role of power and conflict in society (Hancock and Garner 2009; Anderson and Taylor 2011). Functionalist theory on Gender Inequality
In the sociological theories of gender inequalities both the functional and conflict theories assume that structures and institutions of society contribute to gender inequalities (Money et al 2012). The Functionalist theory emphasize on assigning different task to men and women to make society functional and this theory was originally based on the fact that men are believed to be stronger than women (Thio and Taylor 2012). Fuctionalism assume that this division of labour is the most efficient way to get a job done in society (Brinkerhoff et al 2008). According to Talcott Person in society, men play the instrumental role while women play the expressive role in society (as cited by Thio and Taylor 2012). The instrumental role involves the performance of a task, that is, going out to work and make money, while the expressive role involves bearing, nursing and caring for children (Thio and Taylor 2012; Money et al 2012).
The Feminist objected to this characterization of limiting women to expressive roles as dysfunctional and not idealistic for both men and women in society (Anderson and Taylor 2008). Most Feminist theories argue that in a contemporary society where men take on expressive roles of housework and the women go outside to work and earn money increases gender equality and lower divorce rate (Thio and Taylor 2012). Conflict Theory
Conflict theory view is derived from the inspirational work of Karl Marx (1818-1883) and emphasizes on the importance of structures within society. This theory views society from a conflict perspective and gives high attention to race, gender, social class and age because they are seen as the main factors in the enduring struggles in society (Anderson and Taylor 2008). According to Money et al (2011) conflict theories focuses on issues of alienation and meaninglessness in the social system. Conflict theory differs from the Functionalist theory because it pays particular attention to class inequality and conflict and not consensus in society (Jones 2003). Conflict theory emphasise that education plays a major role in maintaining the power, economic and social positions of the dominant groups in society (ballantine and spade 2012). The conflict perspective view education as a system that promotes inequality and unequal distribution of people into different jobs. They argue that the educational system is being used by the dominant powerful groups in society to impose their beliefs and values on the less privileged in society.
This simply means that education benefits a certain group in society. From the conflict point of view education reinforces the class system, where working class children(less powerful groups) don’t do well academically and end up with skills for lower status jobs, while the middle and upper class(more powerful groups) generally perform better academically and get the higher status jobs in society. Conflict theory challenges the structural functionalism perspective, which sees meritocracy in education as working and effective within schools. This theory assumes that issues of power, inequality and struggle are based on divisions in society not merit. The Conflict school of thought assumes that inequality is as a result of one’s position in society and that education acts as a privilege to some children and a disadvantage to others (Ballantine and Spade 2008; Giddens 2009). Conflict theory on Gender Inequality
Conflict theory emphasize that the disadvantage of women in society is not based on their expressive roles but by their exploitation by men and the capitalist class (Thio and Taylor 2012; Brinkerhoff et al 2008). They argue that women are disadvantaged by the power inequalities already built into the social structures of politics, wages and social systems, and preventing women from gaining access to these social structures becomes advantageous to men (Anderson and Taylor 2008). Also, men can remain dominant in society if they maintain their status quo prevent women from reaching and developing their potential. This view is seen by many as the traditional division of labour and a very good example of this theory can be traced to Afghanistan where the Taliban banned women and girls from going to school or work outside the home. The conflict theory gives a lot of of attention to sexual exploitation as one of the main reasons for gender inequality in society and sexism and discrimination are the two major concepts that explain how gender inequality benefits men and the capitalist (Thio and Taylor 2012; Brinkerhoff et al 2008). Symbolic interactionism
Symbolic interactionism is used for the study of human group life and human conduct (Blumer 1986). According to Blumer (1986) human beings act towards things that have meanings to them and that the meaning of such things arises from the social interactions of individuals with each other. Symbolic interactionism assumes that the meanings that human beings attach to things are central in life. George Herbert Mead is believed to be the founder of symbolic interactionism and later improved on by Herbert Blumer. Symbolic interactionist theory assumes that humans use symbolic communication to interact. This approach looks at how human beings perceive and respond to each other as social symbols (Ahmad 2008). According to Ahmad (2008), symbolic interactionism emphasize on the details of a specific situation and the social interaction of individuals in that situation. The symbolic interactionism view of education seeks to explain what arises from the interaction process during schooling.
This simply means that the symbolic interactionism is concerned with face to face interactions and focuses on the meaning that arises in the interaction between student and teacher. It also focuses on the role this meaning play on human behaviour and learning abilities (Anderson and Taylor 2008). Unlike the conflict theory that focuses on education and inequality the symbolic interactionism focuses on how the schooling experience affects students self development and aspirations (Kendell 2011). Kendell (2011) also mentioned labelling by symbolic interactionist as a process relating to power and status of those who label individuals and the individuals who are being labelled. The symbolic interactionist assumes that in schools teachers use the labelling method to labell students through grades, classroom behaviour, IQ Test and placement in classes. Symbolic interactionism theory on Gender Inequality
Functionalism and conflict theory focus on the institutional structures of society to explain gender inequality. However, the symbolic interactionism focuses on the direct social interactions to understand gender relations in society (Anderson and Taylor 2008). This theory assumes that the interaction between men and women reinforces gender inequality. According to symbolic interaction theory when men interact with women it reflects their inequality in society (Thio and Taylor 2012). The symbolic interactionism focuses on gender socialization, that is, how men and women act the way they do and according to Money et al (2012) through the gender socialization process, both men and women learn the meanings associated with being masculine and feminine. Gender and attainment
Gender and attainment focuses on the level and tendency to which boys and girls study and perform in different subjects given the choice in education. Gender can be said to be the social, psychological and cultural attributes of masculinity and feminity that are based on biological distinction (Chuku 2008). Many researchers believe that gender roles in society are socially and culturally derived where men and females are treated differently from birth. According to the European Commission (2009) women has greatly increased their educational attainment in traditionally male dominated subjects and surpassing men in general levels of attainment in public exams. Historically females have faced serious obstacles within the educational system in UK, preventing them from achieving their level of educational attainment. One of the key reasons for introducing the comprehensive schools system in the 1960s was to reduce the gender inequalities in educational attainment (Heath and Jacobs 1999). In the UK, the two measures of educational attainment are the certificate of education (GCSE) and the A-Level. Many studies by educational researchers have shown that boys are now lagging behind in educational attainment.
A recent study carried out by the Guardian (2011) show that girls are ahead of boys at GCSE with a record achievement gap. The study shows that girls’ outperformed boys in almost every subject including traditionally boys dominated science subjects. According to the DFE (2011) girls have continued to outperform boys in GCSE exams where 61.9% of girls achieved five or more A-C grades compared to 54.6% of boys. 26.5% of girls in all subject scored an A grade compared to 19.8% of boys. According to the Guardian (2011) this created a record gap of 6.7% compared to 3.6% in 1994 when the A grade was introduced. Also female students out-performed men at university achievement in 2009 and according to figures released by BIS (2011) in the 2008 -2009 academic sessions 51% of young women entered higher education compared to 40% of young men(as cited by the BBC 2011). Many researchers in education have attached the poor attainment of boys to lower income groups and that the gender attainment gap in education between boys and girls cuts across social classes and ethnicity in UK. Although the attainment gap for social class and ethnicity is greater than those for gender, its interplay with social class and ethnicity impact on the performance of boys and girls (DCSF 2009) Key policy developments in education provision designed to bridge the gap of gender inequality in British education.
Equality in education has been a major target of the British government policy marking since the early part of the twentieth century. From the 1944 Education Act to the 1960s which established education at different levels to eradicate class and gender inequalities. As a result of the feminist movement of the 1970s there was an increase in gender and racial equality (Salisbury and Riddell 2011). In 2007 gender equality issues in the UK received considerable attention. These issues relating to education were identified by the then equal opportunities commission to include; challenging gender issues in subject choices, pupil attainment and sexual bullying in schools. These Gender equality issues in education has been addressed through a series of legislative and policy frameworks that include the sex discrimination Act of 1975, as amended in 2005. This Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against women in educational institutions or in the admission process to an educational institution. The equality Act 2006 replaced the sex discrimination Act of 1975 and placed a duty on all public authorities to promote equality between men and women and also to eliminate discrimination and harassment. Conclusion
Education plays a crucial role in the socialization process, schools, colleges and universities are socializing agencies where children relates to teachers and fellow students and learn how to live in groups and obey authority. This essay has been able to show that gender inequalities in education are socially constructed and there has been a growing gap between the average attainment of boys and girls in education. It should be remembered, however, that the underachievement of boys is not consistent across some subjects and girls also face a range of barriers too in fulfilling their potential. The fight for gender equality in education and attainment all over the world and in the UK is as a result of efforts made by various feminist movements, non-governmental organisations, United Nations, government policies etc. All these assisted to engineer gender equality in education and women liberation and empowerment. From this essay it can be concluded that education acts as an agent for political and cultural transmission and social control. The three main sociological theories of education and gender inequality have different approaches and different views on the role of education in society and gender inequality. However, these theories indicate that schooling helps transmit a certain type of culture and helps maintain the political and social systems in a society.
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