Education and society

The three major societal aims for education are wealth creation, cultural reproduction and social justice.

A classic text on the links between education and national productivity is by Schultz. The concern remains a major driver in the development of modern education systems and international agencies such as the World Bank.

An important manifestation of the economic imperative is a concern with international comparisons of educational performance. Reynolds and Farrell provided an influential, but widely criticised, report. The OECD has begun to publish results from their cross-national Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) (see for the latest findings).

The interaction of culture, education and society has been of great interest for centuries. Sociologists often draw attention to the ways in which educational institutions contribute to the reproduction of existing social hierarchies. Bourdieu, for example, suggested that schooling contributes to the transfer of ‘cultural capital’. Apple recognises the ideological power of schooling but suggested that it can be challenged.

Socio-cultural psychologists focus on cultural adaptions, and on the ways in which learners accommodate to cultural contexts. Three examples of this are provided below. Lave and Wenger’s highlight the ways in which learners gradually accommodate to particular learning communities; Hollis shows how school practices are steeped in cultural meanings; Rogoff argues that children learn through forms of ‘apprenticeship’.

Regarding the third major educational aim, social justice, there is an enormous literature from the sociology of education focused on social differentiation processes and the issue of inclusion/exclusion. Many of the Notes for Further Reading for Chapter 15 will also be relevant here, for instance on gender, ethnicity and disability issues.

Classics on class differentiation within primary and secondary education respectively include:

To explore the adoption of a more radical commitment to social justice in teaching, take a look at the following:

Committed action as a teacher obviously raises questions of values and this has to be handled with professional care and objectivity. Indeed, the growing importance of citizenship within the curriculum reinforces the importance of this stance.

The major international statements on human rights provide a supportive framework. The most important of these are:

The European Convention represents a collective guarantee of rights by European states, and is backed by the European Court of Human Rights. Copies of the Convention and further information is available from the internet or from: Directorate of Human Rights, Council of Europe, F-67006 Strasbourg, France.

The United Nations Convention on Children's Rights is of particular significance for teachers. For an excellent account of its implications within the UK, see: