The contribution of education to social progress

Spiel, C., Schwartzman, S., Busemeyer, M., Cloete, N., Drori, G., Lassnigg, L., Schober, B., Schweisfurth, M. and Verma, S. (2018) The contribution of education to social progress. In: International Panel on Social Progress, (ed.) Rethinking Society for the 21st Century: Report of the International Panel for Social Progress. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, pp. 753-778. ISBN 9781108399661 (doi: 10.1017/9781108399661.006)

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Education is the process of learning and expanding culture, and, as it contributes to the improvement of the human condition through better knowledge, health, living conditions, social equity and productivity, is a central tool for social progress. Education is expected to foster social progress through four different but interrelated purposes: humanistic, through the development of individual and collective human virtues to their full extent; civic, by the enhancement of public life and active participation in a democratic society; economic, by providing individuals with intellectual and practical skills that make them productive and enhance their and society’s living conditions; and through fostering social equity and justice. The expansion of formal education, which was part of the emergence of the nation states and modern economies, is one of the most visible indicators of social progress. In its expansion, education created a complex web of institutions distributed according to different paths along the life course, from early education through the school cycles to the final stages of higher education, continuing with the provision of forms of lifelong education. This web of institutions is subject to breaks and cleavages that reflect their diverse and multiple historical origins and purposes and the asynchronous developments in different regions. From primary schooling, education institutions grew horizontally (by learning fields, subjects, or occupations) and vertically (by levels and credentials.) The allocation of children and young people to different tracks and institutions, by a mixture of choice and assignment, is a core process in formal education that often reflects and reproduces preexisting inequalities. The chapter presents the main actions needed to allow education to fulfill its promise to promote social progress considering the four purposes of education. On a global level more research informed policy is required and a balanced approach to educational reform, including teacher education, by putting more emphasis on the civic and humanistic purposes. Governance structures that are flexible, participatory, and accountable considering the political and social context are recommended. The new agenda of Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 established in 2015 calls for a new cooperative paradigm based on the concept of “full global partnership” and the principle of “no one will be left behind.” Sustainable Development Goal 4 for Education aims “to ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning”. This provides a broad framework for education’s contribution to social progress. To achieve this, it is necessary: (1) to expand access and improve the quality of early childhood education, as a precondition for life-long educational success in all its goals; (2) to improve the quality of schools, including in learners’ direct interactions with their peer groups, educators and the surroundings; in institutional characteristics such as group size, student-teacher ratio, teacher qualifications and spatial and material conditions, and in the provision of a meaningful and relevant curriculum; (3) to enhance the role of educators, considering that teachers are not just carriers of knowledge and information, but role models that have a significant impact on children’s dispositions towards learning and life more generally; (4) to make higher and vocational education more inclusive and socially relevant, thereby enhancing the opportunities for students of all sectors of society to further their education in a meaningful and practical ways, eliminating social and cultural restrictions to access and reducing the dividing lines between high and low prestige and esteem between institutions and careers. Additionally, appropriate use of the opportunities created by the new digital technologies is recommended. These are not a magic bullet that will replace existing educational institutions and create a new learning world. But they can be powerful instruments to improve the quality and relevance of education and its contribution to social progress.

Item Type:Book Sections
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Schweisfurth, Professor Michele
Authors: Spiel, C., Schwartzman, S., Busemeyer, M., Cloete, N., Drori, G., Lassnigg, L., Schober, B., Schweisfurth, M., and Verma, S.
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Education > Robert Owen Centre
College of Social Sciences > School of Education > Educational Leadership & Policy
Publisher:Cambridge University Press
Published Online:01 July 2018
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2018 Cambridge University Press
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher

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