Sociological perspectives on education


From a functionalist perspective, it is argued that education contributes to the
maintenance of the social system. Emile Durkheim saw the major function of education as transmission of the society’s norms and values. He maintained that the society can survive only if a sufficient degree of homogeneity exists among its members. Education functions to strengthen this homogeneity by maintaining a balance of these similarities in an individual since his childhood. Due to these similarities, the demands of life in all individuals are similar. Cooperation and social solidarity would never have existed in the absence of these essential similarities. Drawing conclusions from Dukheim’s concept, American sociologist Talcott Parsons gave a functionalist view of education. Parsons put across the theory that after the spread of primary socialization within a family, the school assumes the role of a central socializing agency. School brings the
family closer to the society. It prepares the child for his role as an adult. Davis and
Moore shared Parson’s view with reference to education. They too considered
education to be useful in providing suitable roles to individuals. However, they hold the
educational system directly responsible for creating divisions in the society. According
to Davis, the education system has proved that it is able to select people on the basis
of their capacities and allocate appropriate positions to them. Thus, the process of
educational filtering organizes and categorizes individuals on the basis of their skills and capacities. The people with the highest level of talent get the highest level of
qualification. Consequently, this leads them to better occupations which are most
important in terms of functions to the society.


However, the Marxianperspective provides a radical alternative to the functionalist
position. French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser presents a general framework for
the analysis of education from a Marxian perspective. Being a section of the
superstructure, the infrastructure finally gives shape to education. According to him,
education benefits only the ruling class. For survival and prosperity, it is very important
to reproduce the power of labour. Two steps are involved in the process of reproducing
labour. The first step is the reproduction of skills that are required for a capable labour
force. The second step is the reproduction of the ideology of the ruling class and
socialization of workers. These processes combine to reproduce a technically efficient,
submissive and obedient workforce. In a social structure that is dominated by capitalism, education reproduces such a workforce. Althusser stresses that reproduction of labour power not only requires reproduction of its skills but also a simultaneous reproduction of its submission to the ruling ideology. This submission is reproduced by a number of ‘ideological state apparatuses’ which include the mass media, law, religion and education. The ideological state apparatus is a trademark of the ideology of the ruling class which
creates artificial class awareness. This awareness maintains the subject class in its
subordinate position to a large extent. Education, according to Althusser, not only transmits ideologies of the general ruling class (which justifies and legitimates the capitalist system) but also reproduces the attitudes and behaviour that are required by major groups in the division of labour.


Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich has been critical of both functionalist and liberal
views of education. In Deschooling Society, which was published in 1971, he raises
issues on the incapability of schools in matching educational ideals. In his opinion,
schools are institutions that teach students about various means of exploitation.
According to him, schools instigate compliance to the society and create a belief in students, to accept the interests of the powerful. However, real learning can never prevail through a set of instructions. It can be inculcated only when an individual is
involved in every part of the learning process on his own. To conclude, the majority of learning processes require no teaching. Illich blames the educational system as the main cause of all problems that have emerged in the modern industrial society. School teaches the individual to delay authority, assume isolation, to absorb and accept the services of the institution, and neglect his own needs and wants. He is instructed to view education as a precious product such that it should be taken in large amounts. He, however, also presents a solution. According to him, to resolve this issue, it is important to abolish the present system of education, since schools form the base of education. Deschooling is the primary step towards the liberation of mankind. Finally, Illich confirms that deschooling will create a society where every man can be truly liberated and can experience a sense of fulfillment.


Education as an instrument of social control and social change


The general character of formal education has undergone a rapid change through modern science and technology. Technological development today is quite unlike the development that took place in the 19th century. Unlike the present day society, in ancient societies, education was considered as the learning related to a way of life. However, in primitive societies, the terminology of science comprised the production and distribution of labour.
Formal education quickens the overall process of education. However, it is incapable of transmitting any practical knowledge. In societies of recent times, the content of education is more scientifically inclined and less scholarly. Thus, it can be concluded that education in modern societies inculcates freedom of thought and values that have an important role
in streamlining the attitude of an individual.


It has been argued that education by itself does not bring about social change;
rather it is an instrument which performs the functions that are entrusted to it. Innovations in the education system may lead to structural changes in the society. The Indian society has deep-rooted customs and traditions which are strongly embedded in the Indian lifestyle. Changes are resisted because they conflict with traditional values and beliefs.