Effects of education on societal change between generations

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In what ways does education affect social change between one generation and the next?

From 1891 every citizen in the United Kingdom was given the right to free education. Today, education is seen to enable every individual to effectively participate in activities of society and make positive contributions to its progress. Traditionally, earlier educational institutions taught its students a way of life through social control. It was largely associated with religion and was characteristically quite static. Now, education is seen as a way of preparing for the development of science and technology. From education we learn and transmit values and develop our culture. It gives us the ability to expand our social status and future work prosperities. Education is constantly changing along with society. In this essay I will convey the relationship between education and social changes such as class, gender and work prospects over time.

Originally schooling was only for the privileged such as the British nobility who studied classical subjects because they had no need in practical skills. When the Industrial Revolution came around it bought about the need for an educated labour force. Durkheim felt that the role of education was to allocate and prepare people to different and specialised roles within the Division of Labour. Throughout education there has been an ongoing theme of the correlation between educational success and social class.

“Parents and caregivers see education as a way for their children to improve on their own lives by building and understanding of their place in the world” (Lauder, H 2006 p.1).

It is seen that children from higher socioeconomic classes are likely to receive better educational life chances than that of children from lower classes. This has occurred through inter-generational mobility where parents pass down their perceptions and advantages in life to the next generation. A reason for this is that if you are of higher class you may have the opportunity to go to an elite private or grammar school where you are not only taught academic subjects but also learn mannerisms, patterns of speech and social graces linked with the British upper class. Pierre Bourdieu suggests that the primary role of any type of education was social reproduction (Macionis, J P.542). This may be because living in a middle to upper class prepares you in coping in such a demanding educational intuition. Young people from a lower class background are bought up around different language experiences, behaviours, attitudes, ideas, values and skills. For example, in the 1950s if you were of lower class and finished education at high school you would either get a job in manual labour such as mining or start an apprenticeship. Many of the higher class would typically continue in education to a specific profession or work in their father’s footsteps of his business.

Over time there has been an increase in the proportions of people from all social classes attaining high educational qualifications but the association between your origins of social class and educational achievement hasn’t significantly changed throughout generations. Better educational opportunities still mean a better qualification but the educational expansion experienced has benefited social classes equally without reducing social inequalities.

A major social change within education is gender equality. Women were completely excluded from education until the late nineteenth century (Billington, R. P. 139). For generations, there has been an overwhelming pressure on boys and girls to conform to gender stereotypes and roles beginning at birth. In previous generations it was seen the norm, for example for men to fight for their countries in world wars and for the women to child rear, care for the elderly and learn good housekeeping. One of the sociological explanations for this is that the definitions of gender in culture are learned. A Marxist view was that these views were derived from capitalism and patriarchy where the man is seen to be head of the family and is in control of work, marriage and property. State education reinforced the traditional male and female roles, splitting males to focus on the labour market and teach women to be good homemakers. Many feminists argued against this view of inequality within gender and felt that,

“The Curriculum should represent women fairly, and that they should be seen as legitimate and equal citizens of the state” (Lauder, H. P. 16).

It was thought that women’s increased participation in education would make a progressive and profound feature of social change. This is now the case as Arnot et al (1999) suggests that girls are now outperforming boys in every subject across the curriculum. This is a vast change where in previous generations men were seen as the only ones worthy and capable enough to gain an education.

Education for past generations was seen as a process you went through and in the end there was a job waiting to be taken. Many left school at the age of sixteen and worked their way up the economic ladder to provide for their family comfortably. Recently, there has been a large transition of elite to mass educational systems as new universities are built. Governments began giving students large incentives to attend to compete with the strong international knowledge economy. This also meant that people from various different backgrounds, races, genders an opportunity to gain a degree. Martin Trow felt this, “fundamentally changed higher education’s role in society”. Within the last forty four years there has been an increase of two million students coming into Higher Education. A set back however is, the demand for ‘knowledge’ workers has failed to keep pace with the rapid increase in the supply of university graduates. The Labour Force Survey found that 80 per cent of men aged 16 to 64 and 76 per cent of women aged 16 to 59 reported holding a qualification (The National Statistics online).

In today’s generation, your education is seen as a competition not only with fellow classmates and family but within British Labour market. This accessibility meant many students coming to university were the first generation in their family to attend, a big social change in terms the development of education. Now, in this post industrial society there are narrow economic opportunities for the lower/middle class, with a struggle to distinguish yourself from others with similar credentials.

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