We are introduced to the possibility that Aboriginal Canadians, who receive their education on reserves, will not be successful in the modern Canadian economy. On the other hand, urban Aboriginal people who finish high school fare well in education and occupational opportunities.
This chapter focuses upon education, the social institution through which society provides its members with important knowledge, including basic facts, job skills, and cultural norms and values. This is accomplished through schooling, formal instruction under the direction of specially trained teachers.
In low- and middle-income countries, families teach young people important knowledge. Formal schooling is available to few. As a result about one-third of the world's people cannot read or write. Global Map 20-1 (p. 520) shows the extent of illiteracy around the world.
Although India has recently become a middle-income country, less than half of its population go on to secondary school. There is also a gender differential with 30% of the girls and 45% of the boys reaching the secondary grades. Therefore most of the children working in factories are girls.
Mandatory education laws began in 1872. The cultural values of tradition and family are stressed in the early grades. In their early teens, students begin to face the rigorous and competitive exams of the Japanese system. Test scores determine whether a person will go to university or college, rich and poor alike. Some 96% of Japanese students graduate from high school, a much higher rate than Canada. However, only 50% go on to the postsecondary level, compared to 55% in Canada. There is tremendous pressure on students to be successful in exams for postsecondary attendance, but Japanese students outperform students in every other high-income country.
Schooling in Great Britain has long been associated with the elite. Traditional social distinctions still exist, with many children from wealthy families attending public schools, the equivalent of our private boarding schools. Expansion of the university system has allowed all children to compete for Britain's government-funded university system. However, graduates of the elite schools of Oxford and Cambridge have considerable economic and political power in Britain. Quite clearly, the examples from India, Japan, and Great Britain indicate how social and cultural patterns help shape educational participation.
In Canada, church-controlled schools were started in the early French settlements and by 1636, the Jesuits started a college which became Laval University. Gradually other universities were added in English Canada and boarding schools became the first step in a secondary school system. Prior to Confederation, both Catholic and Protestant school systems were in place and by 1920, compulsory education to 16 years of age was adopted. Mass education was, in part, a response to the requirements for a skilled and literate workforce.
But, official literacy and functional literacy are not the same. While absolute illiteracy has been minimized in industrial societies, functional illiteracy, a lack of reading and writing skills needed for everyday living, is a reality for some. The Thinking It Through Box (p. 522) deals with this issue. Even so, educational attainment has grown tremendously. Between 1961 and 1986 the proportion of Canadians between 25 and 44 years of age with some postsecondary education has moved from 8% to 55% and in 2001, 15.2% of Canadians had completed university degrees.
In the 1800s in Canada, education was seen as a precondition to economic growth and widespread participation was the goal. Full public funding for elementary and secondary education has gradually been established in both the public and Catholic systems. Although government support has declined, 30% of funding for colleges and universities is still supplied by government.
Canada ranks only behind Sweden in public expenditures for education, however, Canada is behind both the U.S. and the Netherlands in proportion of citizens with university degrees. See Figure 20-1 (p. 521) for this information.
Canada has long valued a practical education. The educational philosophy of John Dewey played a role in this development. Despite this, Canada is lagging behind many other nations in number of engineering degrees awarded. There is some recent change as engineering, mathematics, and science degrees increase while social sciences and humanities degrees decline.
Structural-functional analysis focuses our attention on the functions that educational systems satisfy for society.
As societies become more technologically advanced, social institutions must emerge beyond the family to help socialize members of the society to become functioning adults. Important lessons on cultural values and norms are learned in schools at all levels, along with basic mathematical and language skills. As compared to the United States, the Canadian classroom focuses on co-operative activities and the celebration of diversity.
Education is not merely a transmission of culture; it is also a factor in the creation of culture through critical inquiry and research. Marshall McLuhan foresaw the use of the electronic media to create classrooms without walls.
Through the teaching of certain cultural values and norms, people become more unified. This is a particularly critical function in culturally diverse societies.
This social integration has met with mixed success, however, in Canada and elsewhere. What is recognized is that education is necessary for success, and while cultural traditions can be protected, certain linguistic and other skills must be learned in order to survive in the larger society. In a bilingual society, French is a useful occupational tool, and the response has been an increase in French immersion programs, but enrolments are quite low.
Schooling operates as a screening device to place people in the society according to their aptitudes and abilities. Ideally the "brightest and best" take the challenging tasks.
Schools serve as babysitters for younger children, and by occupying the time of teenagers keeps them from engaging in higher rates of socially disruptive behaviours. Lasting relationships are also established in school.
The structural-functionalists stress the ways in which education supports the operation of the industrial economy. One weakness of this approach, however, is that it fails to focus on how the quality of education varies greatly for different groups of people.
Stereotypes can shape what goes on in the classroom.
If you are told often enough that you are inferior, you may come to believe it and your performance in school may well deteriorate.
A problem with this approach is that a person or persons may not accept the definition of inferiority.
Social-conflict analysis views schooling as a perpetuation of social stratification in Canada.
It is clear that gender, race, and ethnicity have been good predictors of participation rates and subjects studied. There has, however, been a real effort in recent years to rid curriculum and textbooks of gender bias and negative racial or ethnic stereotypes. Certainly women have increased their participation rates at the postsecondary level. Social class is linked to educational aspirations and the opportunity to use computers in the home.
Regional variations in educational attainment are outlined in Canada Map 20-1, p. 527.
Social-conflict analysis views social control as an outcome of schooling because youth are socialized to accept the status quo. The term hidden curriculum refers to the content of schooling that subtly espouses certain ideas. Compliance, punctuality, and discipline are part of the hidden curriculum, which are seen to support the capitalist system.
Standardized tests have traditionally been used for streaming and placement purposes. These tests, however, are weighted in favour of those students from middle- and upper-class backgrounds.
Streaming is the assignment of students to different types of educational programs. The idea is to provide education appropriate to a student's aspirations and aptitudes. Critics suggest that streaming simply replicates the stratification system, students from affluent families expect to be in university-bound streams and those from modest backgrounds expect to learn a trade. Many schools are now more cautious about streaming, but there is some concern among the parents of university-bound children who feel the de-streamed classroom will result in lower quality education.
In Canada and other industrial societies, higher education is regarded as the path to occupational achievement. Figure 20-2 (p. 528) shows the number of years of education beyond the age of 15 for selected OECD countries. Figure 20-3 (p. 528) indicates a dramatic upturn in university enrolment in Canada since the year 1993.
The reasons young people do not attend include finding a job after high school, the expense involved in living in a university city, or being convinced that they cannot be successful. The barriers against women appear to have disappeared since female enrolment is now higher than for males. The Applying Sociology Box (p. 534) discusses various factors that have an impact on educational attainment. Figure 20-4 (p. 529) demonstrates that the highest levels of educational attainment are achieved by Japanese and Chinese people in Canada, while the lowest levels are for Aboriginal peoples. The Thinking About Diversity Box (pp. 532-533) addresses this issue.
Clearly, educational attainment is positively related to both employment success and average yearly income as illustrated in Figure 20-5 and Table 20-1 on page 530.
An important theme of social-conflict analysis is that schooling turns social privilege into personal merit. University is seen as a rite of passage for children of wealthier families, while children from modest beginnings must struggle to overcome the lack of resources. The Applying Sociology Box (p. 534) demonstrates that family structure and parents' educational achievement are strong predictors of educational attainment.
The social-conflict approach focuses on education in terms of social inequality. However, it ignores the social mobility provided by education and the challenge to the system offered in educational curricula. The Applying Theory Table (p. 531) summarizes the three theoretical approaches to understanding education.
Canadians are increasingly concerned with the quality of education their children are receiving.
There is a concern with discipline in Canadian schools. Assaults upon students and teachers are common, but the largest concern is with the lack of respect shown to teachers whose major task is often a matter of maintaining control.
The dropout rate in Canada has declined considerably in the last few years. It is currently at 9.8%. Since employers are unlikely to hire high school dropouts, we can expect to see the rate drop further. The rates vary by province, but all are headed downward.
There has been a growing concern in the United States and Canada about a decline in educational standards. Few students write or think in complex ways and many high school graduates are functionally illiterate. (See the Thinking It Through Box, p. 522.) Canadians fare poorly on international tests, but many countries have only their elite students take such tests. Nonetheless, the feeling persists that Canadian standards of academic excellence have declined in recent years.
Home schooling in the past was practised primarily by parents who wanted their children to experience a strongly religious upbringing. Increasingly, it is practised by parents who believe the schools are not doing a good job. These are mostly affluent parents who will pool their academic resources with other parents so each specializes in what he or she knows best. Home-schooled children outperform those who learn in school. The Media Perspectives Box (p. 536) shows the development in online learning, which has implications for home schooling.
While its clear that the educational system must develop technical skills in students, what seems to be missing is the development of skills to integrate and use information, adapt to change, take reasonable risks, and conceptualize the future.
In a society characterized by diversity, in the midst of a technological revolution and competing in a global economy, the educational institution must be a catalyst, an adaptive mechanism, and a force for maintaining continuity in a period of change. While computers and the internet can improve the overall quality of learning, they are not a panacea nor a replacement for a plan to provide quality universal schooling. Look at the Thinking Critically Box (p. 537) for another view on educational open-mindedness being challenged by political correctness.