Education is a social institution that is guiding the society’s transmission of knowledge – including basic facts, job skills, and also cultural norms and values – to its members. In industrial societies education is largely a matter of schooling, formal instruction under the direction of specially trained teachers.
The extent of schooling in any society is closely tied to its level of economic development. Industrial, high income societies endorse the idea that everyone should go to school. Schooling in low-income nations is very diverse because it reflects local culture. In low-income countries there is not much of it. About one half of all elementary age children ever get to school, and perhaps only one half of them reach the secondary grades.
Structural-functional analysis looks at how formal education contributes to the operation of society.
The important functions performed by schooling are:
Technologically simple societies transmit their ways of life informally from parents to children. As societies develop complex technology, kin can no longer stay abreast of rapidly expanding information and skills.
Thus schooling gradually emerges as a distinctive social institution employing specially trained personnel to convey the knowledge needed for adult roles.
In primary school children learn basic language and mathematical skills.
Secondary school builds on this foundation, and for many, college allows further specialization.
Schools pass on society’s core values from one generation to another. Schools are used for the inculcation of its values – values bout work, family, population, democracy, justice, and so on.
Schools explicitly instruct students in our political way of life. It may be called political socialization.
From the earliest grades, rituals such as saluting the flag and singing the national anthem foster patriotism.
Similarly classroom drills develop competitive individualism, respect for authority, and a sense of fair play.
Education creates as well as transmits culture. Schools stimulate intellectual inquiry and critical thinking, sparking the development of new ideas. At college and university the teachers are busy in research to expand our knowledge in countless areas. Medical research conducted at major universities over the years has increased our life expectancy, just as research by sociologists and psychologist helps us to take advantage of our longevity.
Not only the schools generate new knowledge, they are also the means for bringing social change.
Education may lead to dispelling the traditional attitudes and values. Education is likely to widen the perspectives of the youth, make them ‘rational’, willing to accept new ideas and carrying the message forward.
Schooling helps forge a mass of people into a unified society. This integrative function is especially important in nations with pronounced social diversity, where various cultures know little about – or may even be hostile to – one another. A basic way schools integrate culturally diverse people is by teaching a common language that encourages broad communication and builds a national identity.
Schools help in identifying and developing each student’s aptitudes and abilities and then evaluating a student’s performance in terms of achievement rather than social background.
Teachers encourage the “best and the brightest” to pursue the most challenging and advanced studies, while guiding students with more ordinary ability into educational programs suited to their talents. In this way schooling enhances meritocracy by making personal merit a foundation of future social position.
Formal education helps people assume culturally approved statuses and perform roles that contribute to the ongoing life of society. In this way the schools prepare the youth for making a living.
Schools provide learning according students’ background, thereby perpetuating inequality.
Schools also help continuing inequality between men and women i.e. more boys go to school than girls; girls select different subjects than boys. Schools reinforce the cultural values of gender inequality.
Schools help the assignment of students to different types of educational programs. This is a usual practice in most of the developed countries. Aptitude tests are given to students at grade 8, and with the help of guidance and counseling, students are put on different streams. The official justification for tracking is to give students the kind of learning that fits their abilities and motivation.
Research shows that social background has as much to do with tracking as personal aptitudes. Students from affluent families generally do well on standardized “scientific” tests and are to better tracks while those with modest backgrounds end up in programs that curb their aspirations and teach technical trades.
Tracking effectively segregates students – academically and socially – into different worlds.
Schools not only transmit the knowledge and skills to the youth, they are also the agencies that certify the level of education achieved.
Other Latent Functions
Schools perform many latent functions. Schools have become vital for relieving single and dual earner parents of some childcare responsibilities.
Schools help in establishing social networks
School help stabilize employment. Schools continue to hold on to the youth for a longer period – a period, which be utilized for the creation of job opportunities for the educated youth.