The Changing Role of Education from a Sociological Perspective

Following is my final paper for the course Introduction to Sociology.

Finishing this course will give me a University Certificate of Liberal Studies. It is this certificate which enables me to go on and study at ACU, doing my BA next year. I am so glad to have had the opportunity to study at this stage of my life and look forward to doing more next year.

The Changing Role of Education from a Sociological Perspective

According to Jacque Delores, the mission of education is to enable each of us, without exception, to develop all our talents to the full and to realize our creative potential, including responsibility for our own lives and achievement of our personal aims. (Delores, UNESCO 1996). This education does not begin at the start of the first year of institutionalised learning and end when one completes a degree at university, but rather continues from our first breath to our last. This essay however, will concentrate on the changing role of institutional learning from a sociological perspective.

In earlier generations, it was the role of the family, and the mother within that family to be the primary agent of socialisation for a growing child. The mother was there to teach the first words, to encourage first tentative steps and to praise the efforts of children as they grew. Now these milestones are being achieved in day-care without the input of the mother. In fact, there is a curriculum called Early Years Learning Framework written to encourage and document milestone achievements from birth to five years of age. (Community Childcare Co-operative, n.d)

Increasingly, due to economic pressures, the mother is returning to work and placing the children in child care, day care or kindergarten at a much earlier age. Where previously it had been the role of the parent to prepare children for the next phase of their lives, the first day of school, this role is now being given to institutions who have specialised ‘school readiness programs’. (Wellbank Children’s Centre, n.d.)

From a functionalist perspective, Emile Durkheim wrote that the main function of education was to create social cohesion or unit (Durkheim, 1956). This is achieved not only in the classroom, being a collective class, but also on the school sports field as a unified team. Durkheim went on to say that schools are likened to mini societies in which we are to live and work.

Talcott Parsons, continuing on that theme, stated that schools take over the socialisation role of the family becoming a secondary socialisation agent. Peers are also an important secondary socialisation agency. Students at this age are influenced greatly by what their friends collectively think and do.

Where in previous generations secondary school was about learning the fundamentals and a range of cultural and social subjects; it is becoming more geared towards gaining credentials for future employment. The Higher School Certificate was considered an achievement in itself, whereas in this generation it is a means to achieve the required Tertiary Entrance Rank to study for further qualifications.

Tertiary education is now more vocationally based, with the end result being certification or a credential to obtain employment. William Chace states in The American Scholar that over the last four decades there is a shift away from English with the study of business becoming the most popular major.

English: from 7.6 percent of the majors to 3.9 percent
Foreign languages and literatures: from 2.5 percent to 1.3 percent
Philosophy and religious studies: from 0.9 percent to 0.7 percent
History: from 18.5 percent to 10.7 percent
Business: from 13.7 percent to 21.9 percent (Chace, 2009)

Credentials are becoming more important to be considered for meaningful employment. This is also reflected in changing statistics from ABS on education levels completed across the generations. Whilst generations labelled Oldest, Lucky and Baby Boomers had a consistent level of around 10% for the highest level of schooling being year 12; this has jumped to 23% for Generations X and Y. Indeed non – school qualifications have risen from 23% in the Oldest Generation to 57% in Generation X and Y. (Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS] 2006). Those without qualifications have little chance of competing for well-paid employment in this capitalist society.

In previous eras, following work comes retirement and leisure time. Durkheim states that the old should retire and leave the work for younger people. (Durkheim, 1984) Leaving a work environment with its own social structure could leave one bewildered, wondering where they fit in. It is fitting then that older people seek to include themselves in groups of likeminded people.

Leisure, then, is a block of unoccupied time, spare time, or free time when we are free to rest or do what we choose. Leisure is time beyond that which is required for existence, the things which we must do, biologically, to stay, alive (that is, eat, sleep, eliminate, medicate, and so on): and subsistence, the things we must do to make a living as in work, or prepare to make a living as in school, or pay for what we want done if we do not do it ourselves. Leisure is time in which our feelings of compulsion should be minimal. It is discretionary time, the time to be used according to our own judgement or choice. (Brightbill, 1960)

Increasingly, leisure in retirement is including further education. Sydney University of the Third Age organises life-long learning for retired and semi-retired people in a friendly and stimulating environment. Mature aged students learn subjects that are not geared toward further employment, rather what is of interest to the student. These could include new skills in Arts, language, music, history and a whole range of subjects. There is no qualification needed and none is achieved. Education at this time of life is for interest sake only, not to gain a qualification. Older people can then reintegrate themselves into a new social group, again feeling a sense of belonging.

So we can see that education and educational institutions are important not only for the teaching and acquiring of knowledge and skills, but from a functionalist sociological perspective, to socialise people on all levels. Day-care takes over the primary socialisation agency from the parents, in teaching basic social interactions and skills needed to progress to the secondary stage. Primary and secondary schools teach social cohesion as well as preparing students for adulthood and vocations. Tertiary education facilities continue that vocational focus preparing young adults for work and family life. Then after employment ceases, mature age students learn subjects of interest to them, for pleasure not productiveness, and as a way to stay part of a community.

References

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2006) A Picture of a Nation. Retrieved from http://www.ausstats.abs.gov.au/Ausstats/subscriber.nsf/0/5f72bc4e2f670666ca25754c0013fa19/$FILE/20700_a_picture_of_the_nation.pdf

Brightbill, C.K. (1960). The challenge of leisure. Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice- Hall.

Chace, W. (2009) retrieved from http://theamericanscholar.org/the-decline-of-the-english-department/#.VEWxevnLfig

Community Child Care Co-operative Ltd (NSW) (n.d.) Early Years Learning Framework Practice Based Resources – Developmental Milestones. Retrieved from http://files.acecqa.gov.au/files/ACECQA/2014/developmental-milestonesDevelopmental%20Milestones%20and%20the%20EYLF%20and%20the%20NQS.pdf

Delores et al, (1996) Learning, The Treasure Within. UNESCO publishing retrieved from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0010/001095/109590eo.pdf

Durkheim, E. (1956) Education and Sociology. New York: Free Press

Durkheim, E. (1984). The division of labour in society. New York: Free Press

Wellbank Children’s Centre, Canada Bay (n.d.) School Readiness and Transition School Program: Retrieved from http://www.canadabay.nsw.gov.au/link.aspx?id=749

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