The functionalist perspective on the role of education is that it is an institution which socializes individuals into the norms and values of society. Education teaches people how to behave in a way that is acceptable to those in power. It also teaches people the skills they need to function in society.
Functionalists believe that human nature is good and that people are cooperative, interdependent, and adjust to their environment. They see education as a way to teach individuals the necessary skills and knowledge to help them function in society.
The functionalist perspective has been criticized for being too optimistic about human nature and for not taking into account the inequalities in society. However, it remains a powerful sociological perspective which can help us to understand the role of education in society.
The functionalist perspective believes that education develops citizens from basic, old-fashioned social structures to more intricate and modern societies. This perspective is mainly influenced by biological theories and defines society as a living being with different internal systems. According to the functionalists, in order to understand these systems (social practices and institutions), we must look at how they contribute to the “body” or society Feinstein and Solitis).
Functionalists see social stability as necessary for the proper functioning of any society. In their eyes, education helps create such stability by teaching individuals the basic values, norms, and beliefs of their culture and how to work together cooperatively. According to functionalism, these shared values are what hold society together and make it possible for different people to live and work together.
From a functionalist perspective, then, education is not simply a matter of learning academic facts but also of learning how to be a good member of society. It is seen as preparing individuals for their future roles in the workplace and helping to ensure that they will contribute to the smooth functioning of society.
Critics of functionalism argue that it leaves little room for individual choice and downplays the role of power and conflict in society. They also point to the fact that not everyone benefits equally from education, with some groups being systematically disadvantaged. Nevertheless, the functionalist perspective continues to be influential in sociology and education today.
When looking at the relationship between education and development, it is important to remember that functionalists believe that formal schooling became necessary as society progressed and industry began.
According to the functionalist perspective, education performs four main functions in relation to societal ills:
1. Education alleviates poverty
2. Education instills values
3. Education socializes
4. Education provides skills necessary for work
The first two points are based on the idea that education teaches people how to be productive citizens who contribute to society. The third point is based on the belief that education socializes individuals into the norms and values of society. The fourth point is based on the belief that education provides individuals with the skills and knowledge necessary to be successful in the workforce.
While the functionalist perspective on education has been criticized for being too optimistic and for failing to take into account the inequalities within education, it remains a powerful theory in understanding the role of education in society.
In the past, people’s roles in society were based on inheritance rather than personal achievement. But today, education systems are used to place individuals into jobs that fit their skillset. This is done by measuring factors such as grades, test scores, and work ethic. As a result, high-achieving students are placed into jobs that make use of their talents while low-achievers are put into positions that don’t require as much skill.
This has the effect of preparing individuals for their future roles in society and ensuring that the needs of society are met.
The functionalist perspective on education is based on the idea that education serves a positive function for both individuals and society. For individuals, education provides opportunities to develop important skills and knowledge that will be used in their future occupations. For society, education helps to ensure that there are enough qualified workers to meet the needs of businesses and other organizations. Additionally, education helps to instill values and beliefs that contribute to social stability and cohesion.
There are critics of the functionalist perspective who argue that it overemphasizes the role of education in preparing individuals for their future jobs, and does not take into account the ways in which education can also be used to promote personal growth and development. However, the functionalist perspective remains an important sociological theory that helps to explain the role of education in society.
A student who excels academically, testing well, and demonstrates a good work ethic will have more doors open to them career-wise than those students who do not perform as well in school and lack professional skills. The former group will likely earn a high degree which offers them greater job prospects that use higher cognitive skills while the latter group may only be able to find minimum wage jobs.
In this way, the functionalist perspective on education suggests that there is a meritocratic element to society: those who work hard and perform well academically will be rewarded with better job prospects and higher earnings, while those who do not put in the effort will find themselves at a disadvantage.
This perspective also emphasizes the role of education in socializing individuals into becoming productive members of society. By teaching children how to read, write, and think critically, schools prepare them for the workplace and help to instill values such as discipline, punctuality, and teamwork.
From a functionalist perspective, then, education serves an important purpose in society by ensuring that future generations are equipped with the skills and knowledge necessary to contribute to the economy, and by socializing them into becoming responsible citizens.
In other words, functionalists suggest that schools play a part in binding society together by teaching children how to behave in ways that are acceptable to the mainstream. Schools do this through things like the language they use and the curriculum offered, resulting in people who share similar customs and values. Consequently, social cohesion is increased.
Simultaneously, education acts as an agent of political socialization by reproducing and legitimizing the existing social order.
In essence, the functionalist perspective sees education as contributing to social stability and cohesion by teaching children the values and norms of society, and by preparing them for their future roles in work and adult life. This is in contrast to other perspectives which may see education as serving more specific or narrow functions, such as providing individuals with skills and knowledge for work, or promoting social mobility.
There are a number of criticisms that can be levelled at the functionalist perspective on education. Firstly, it has been argued that the emphasis on conformity fails to take into account individual differences, and instead treats all students as though they are the same.
Secondly, the functionalist perspective has been accused of being too optimistic in its view of education, and of failing to recognize the potential for education to be used as a tool for social change.
Finally, some critics have argued that the functionalist perspective produces an overly-simplistic view of education, and fails to take into account the complex reality of schools and classrooms.
Despite these criticisms, the functionalist perspective on education remains a significant and influential sociological theory.