Education is an aspect of socialization which involves the acquisition of knowledge and learning of skills. It shapes our beliefs and moral values through a systematic formal transmission. In addition, it is an integral function of society as it provides a contributory characteristic which helps to maintain and adapt society and its values. Therefore, this essay seeks to establish the social functions of education. Key terms will be defined with meaningful examples and a conclusion will be drawn.

 Education is commonly defined as cultivation, transmission of knowledge and skill development that is imparted from an older to a younger generation. Historically, education is closely related to organized society Education will always reflect the wider socio-cultural niche of its particular setting. These socio-cultural beginnings of education are self-evident because we all live in culturally mediated societies and cultures (Cole, 1998). From the work of different writers in a range of social scientific traditions, seven main social functions of education have been reformulated. The socialization function: to become the main socializing agency, since parents tend to work is going to be considered in details.

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The founding theorists of sociology defined society as a collectivity that is held together inter alia by a collective consciousness, a common culture, societal associations, and a division of labor (Kantzara, 2006). Review work in sociology of education shows that theorizing on social functions of education follows and builds upon the legacy of the founding theorists of sociology (Moore, 2004). The concept function refers not only to educational aims, but also to outcomes that influence and/or cause certain other societal institutions, including society as a whole. Functions, moreover, are conveniently distinguished between micro and macro level, though such a distinction sometimes blurs, instead of delineating further analysis. Generally, the concept function assumes a macro level of analysis, though “in the last instance” it is based on some kind of inferences and assumptions about how education works, and what it achieves at the micro or at the meson level. There is need for ‘social intelligence’ (or social consciousness) among citizens.Dewey (1916) said that: “education is the fundamental method of social progress that aids the formation of a certain character as the only genuine basis of right living”.So, as one witness the various behaviors from people around him/her, they should ask themselves the question: Is this the civilization that these men/ women acquired during their educational journey? Perhaps some have never been part of it after all.

Following the work of Durkheim, the most important functions at the micro level are “methodical socialization” and identification. Socialization, moreover, comprises qualifying and selecting/allocating students to further education and/or professions. Ideally, young (and currently also new) members of society learn and internalize common norms and values, contributing to societal cohesion and preservation (Durkheim, 1973). Apart from teaching, socialization is achieved through extensive surveillance and control of students’ conduct, according to the theorists of the “schooling” tradition. In addition, preparing the youth for adult roles denotes that schooling acquires a qualification function as well, which is based on teaching cognitive aspects (knowledge) and personality traits and skills, deemed socially important to develop in future citizens (Collins, 1979).

Next to this, theorists place the selection/allocation function: it denotes that schools select pupils and allocate them according to their level of achievement for further studies and occupations. The selection function is heavily criticized as it is held responsible for the reproductive function of schools regarding social inequalities. Studies have shown that students’ social characteristics, such as gender or social class origin, influence the way the school evaluates their achievement (e.g.,Bourdieu & Passeron, 2000). Regarding the identification function from the outset of institutionalizing formal schooling, education has acquired the purpose of contributing to the crafting of a homogeneous national identity. For example, in the United States, especially, schooling was thought of as serving society’s needs for stability, by teaching the components of citizenship to migrants (Coleman et al, 1966). Subsequently, citizenship is connected to political socialization and currently it is subsumed under “political literacy.” After the 1980s studies have focused on the hidden aspects of the curriculum that promote, mainly through stereotyping, identification of students with their ethnicity, gender, and social class origins (Arnot 2002).
Furthermore, review work in sociology of education shows that the most important functions ascribed to education at the macro level are the following: social adjustment, preservation, re production of capitalism and class society, renewal or change, upward mobility, and social domination. The institutionalization of a nationwide system prescribed an adjusting function to schooling. Students ought to learn information, knowledge, and skills that would help them adapt fully to society. (Archer, 1984). Education acquires, in other words, an assimilation purpose. Currently, however, the institution of education tends to replace methods and curricula in order to contribute, instead, to the social “integration” of students.

Weber’s work also shows historically that educational institutions are related to domination. Educated, cultivated individuals usually belong to, and/or become members of, the social groups that exercise power; secondly, traits of cultivated personalities are closely related to the ideal types of power: charismatic, rational, and traditional (Weber 1973).

In conclusion, education politics debate focused on the link between education and future forms of societal organization. Emphasis is given to facilitating access to primary education internationally and to teaching social ideals, tolerance, solidarity, and global citizenship. Teaching methods also underwent changes facilitating students’ “active learning” and critical thinking. The term social function seems to dominate the exploration of the relationship of education to society in causal terms, while it is generally agreed that this relationship is close and complementary. Education, moreover, could be said to be part of the rationalization process societies undergo since its institutionalization following social mandates and needs, becoming largely part and parcel of contemporary processes of governance.

Archer, S. M. (1984) Social Origins of Educational Systems. London: Sage Publishers.

Coleman, J. S. et al. (1966) Equality of Educational Opportunity. Washington DC: US Government Printing Office.

Collins, R. (1979) The Credential Society: An Historical Sociology of Education and Stratification. New York: Academic Press.

Durkheim, E. (1973) Moral Education: A Study on the Theory and Application of the Sociology of Education. Free Press, New York.

Kantzara, V. (2006) Education and Society: A Critical Exploration of the Social Functions of  Education (in Greek). Athens: Polytropon Press.
Moore, R. (2004) Education and Society: Issues and Explanations in the Sociology of Education. Cambridge: Polity Press.