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The relationship between education and inequality has been a dominant apprehension of the sociology of education

Categories Career, Education, Inequality, Occupations, Relationship, School, Social Class, Social science, Society, Sociology, Teacher

Essay, Pages 7 (1501 words)



Essay, Pages 7 (1501 words)

Sociological research has documented the fact that young people living in low income communities suffer in school due to large class size, poor quality teaching and insufficient budgets for and other instructional materials. The key terms to be defined are education and social inequality. This essay seeks to link formal education and social inequality, to show how schooling transforms privilege into personal worthiness and social disadvantage into personal deficiency.

Social inequality is the existence of unequal opportunities and rewards for different social positions and statuses within a group of society (Moffitt, 2019).

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According to USLEGAL (2016) social inequality refers to the unequal social status of individuals or group in a given society. Therefore, Social inequality refers to relational processes in society that have the effect of limiting or harming a group ‘s social status, social class and social circle.

According to Macionis (2012) education is the social institution through which society provides its members with important knowledge including basic facts, job skills and cultural norms and values.

Giddens and Suttons (2013) define education as, a social institutional which enables and promote the acquisition of skills knowledge and broadening of personal horizons. From the two point of views the writers define education as acquiring knowledge to change societal behaviour.

Education has promoted social inequalities through the quality of education provided. According to Macionis (2005:524) believes that, “many of these are prestigious and expensive schools modelled on British boarding schools do not only provide strong academic programs but teach mannerisms, attitudes and social grace of the upper class.

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In agreement Coleman and Hoffer 1987 in Macionis (2005) says, private schools are better than public schools in the sense that private schools generate greater interest in learning, probably because of smaller class size, more student-teacher contact, higher academic standards and greater discipline whereas, in public schools’ classrooms are outnumbered and teachers use drilling and teacher-directed methods. Therefore, low incomed parents send their children to public schools whereas high income parents to private schools. These children have differences in standards of living.

Bourdieu in Moore (2000: 196) argues that, major role of the education system is to exclude working class children which is ‘the social function of elimination’ and is partly achieved through cultural process.” The testing done in schools promotes social inequalities in children. Putka 1990 in Ritzer (2015) maintains the idea that, some bias based on class race or ethnicity cannot be avoided in formal testing, because questions in standardised tests inevitably reflect our society’s dominant culture thereby placing minority students at a disadvantaged. Thus, students from minority groups living without the culture do not perform well in the class.

Kozol 1992 has considered tracking in schools as one of the savages in equalities in the school system. Most students from privileged families tend to do well on standardised tests and get assigned to higher tracks, where they receive the best the school can offer. Whereas, students from disadvantaged backgrounds typically do less well on these tests and end up in lower tracks where teachers stress memorisation and drilling. In connection to Kozol, Bowles and Gintis 1976 in Ritzer (2015) says, young people who spend years in higher tracks tend to see themselves as bright and able whereas students in lower tracks have less ambitions.

In addition, labelling reinforces inequalities in schools. Haralambos and Holborn (2004:639) say that, once a label is attached to a person there is a tendency for them seeing themselves in terms of the label and act accordingly. Supporting this idea, Nelson (2008:138) agrees that, “teachers can make judgement about students leading them to be mentally attached to their labels. For instance, a learner who is labelled dull is likely to act as dull. Hence, labels stick in learners mind and it leads to discrimination of some learners needs and reinforces social inequalities.

Streaming also contributes to reinforcement of social inequalities. According to Keddie (1973) in Haralambos and Holborn (2004:640) say that, pupils were grouped into three groups in terms of ability. In agreement, Ritzer (2015) says, better students are placed in higher ability groups at the beginning of the year. Therefore, teachers use streaming methods which end up resulting in social inequalities. For example, in higher education schools’ learners are grouped according to their ability such that those who are bright are placed in science classes, the average in commercial classes and the rest in arts classes. This provides students with unequal opportunities to their choices. Therefore, it is meaningful to say education plays a role in reinforcing social inequalities.

In addition, school creates and transmits culture (Macionis,2005). The teaching media as well as the teaching methods in schools has also promoted social inequalities in male and female. According to Sharpe in Moore (2000) young children are given sex differentiated toys with construction being regarded as more appropriate for boys. Spender in Moore (2000) concurs that the nature of the knowledge taught in school is sexist and patriarchy. Deem in Ritzer (2015) notes that, textbooks and readers in primary schools are still often gender biased with male being the more dominant characters. Therefore, it is deduced that education reinforce social inequalities.

Moreover, self-fulfilling prophecy by teachers underpins social inequalities. Teachers have a profound role in guiding their students success or failure, and this is partly affected by their own mindset about the student. According to, Haralambos and Holborn (2004:639) predictions made by the teacher about the future success or failure of the pupils will tend to come true because of the predictions that had already been made”. Evidently, Keddie’s studies in Moore (2005) found out that the children who were regarded as clever by the teacher were those who uncritically accepted the teacher’s assumptions of what constituted academic knowledge. For example, a child who is constantly told that he is going to be doctor will work very hard to fulfil the prophecy. Hence, self-fulfilling prophecy strengthen social inequalities in education.

However, Henslin (2010) articulates that, critics say that social conflict analysis ignores the common pattern by which schooling provides upward social mobility for talented men and women from all background. Further despite the claims that schooling supports the status quo, todays college and curricula challenge social inequality on many fronts. Parsons in Sadovnik (2011:5) views that, schooling performs important functions in the development and maintenance of a modern democratic society especially regarding equality of opportunity for all citizens. Schooling moulds a diverse population into a unified society.” Teachers are trained to convey the specialised knowledge that adults need for jobs and to maintain a household. Activities at school such as spelling bee test develop competition in individuals and brings a sense of fair play. School enhances meritocracy by rewarding ability and effort regardless of social background.

Parental backgrounds strengthen social inequalities in the society. According to Coleman (1966) in Ritzer (2015) says the most important predictor of students learning is student’s background. In agreement Ritzer (2015) say student from the most socioeconomically advantages families are the most likely to attain a bachelors degree and the least likely to drop out from school. Hence, parental background affects the whole learning of a student. For examples learners from high socioeconomic classes are given more support through different reading materials. Therefore, parental background reinforces social inequalities.

Kohn and Schooler 1983 observed that class differences in parents values showing that differences also exist in the behaviour of parents and children. Bernstein 1971 in Henslin (2010) supports the idea saying, middle class homes parents placed a tremendous emphasis on reasoning whereas in working class and poor homes most parents did not focus on developing their children’s opinions judgement and observations.

Herrnstein and Murray 1996 in Ritzer (2015) argues that educational inequalities are due mostly to natural differences in intelligence in human populations rather than systematic differences in educational opportunities. In agreement, Riordan (2004) says, genetic differences in intelligence are the causes of social inequalities in the society. Therefore, children come to school with significant different which groups them already before educational divides them.

In conclusion, it can be deduced that education quality, facilities, policies, assessment and evaluation fosters social inequalities. Teachers should be cautious of how they handle individuals at school to try and provide equal opportunities. Factors that affect inequality and group individuals in a society can never be avoided, hence education should act as a stabiliser in the society.


  1. Giddens, A. and Sutton, P.W. (2013) Sociology. New Delhi: John Willey.
  2. Haralambos, M and Holborn, M (20o4) Sociology: Themes and Perspectives 7th Ed: harper Ltd.
  3. Henslin, J.M (2010). Sociology: A down to Earth Approach (10th Ed). Boston: Pearson.
  4. Macionis, J. J. (2012) Sociology 10th Ed. New Delhi: Pearson Education Inc.
  5. Moffit, K. (2019). What is Social Inequality in Sociology. Available at (accessed 24/04/19)
  6. Moore, S. (2000) A level Sociology. Britain: Letts educational Ltd.
  7. Riordan, C. (2004) Equality and Achievement: An introduction to the Sociology of Education (2nd Ed). Upper Saddle River, N J: Prentice Hall.
  8. Ritzer, G (2015) Introduction to Sociology, New Delhi: SAGE.
  9. Thornes, N (2008) AQA Sociology: Nelson Thornes

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The relationship between education and inequality has been a dominant apprehension of the sociology of education. (2019, Dec 04). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/socio-present-example-essay

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