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Education in European Lances


Academic year: 2021

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P i o t r M i k i e w i c z University of Lower Silesia, Poland


1. Introduction

Sociological interest in education has two basic reasons. First, formal education is an element of the experience of each member of modern society in the West. Each of us shall have attended a school and education aff ects our lives. Secondly, the system of education seems to be one of the fundamental societal subsystems, re-sponsible for the selection and allocation of individuals in the social structure. Regardless of whether we are dealing with education from the functional or confl ict perspective, we indicate the essential role of education always in close connection with the world of work, and thus the system of stratifi cation. As one of the channels of social mobility, education constitutes one of the fundamental themes of socio-logical thought. Th erefore, basic questions arise: how does education aff ect the social fate of people? Which mechanisms stimulate their social trajectories? What are macro and micro mechanisms of selection and allocation processes?

Although these questions are very basic and have been present in the sociology of education from the beginning of this sub-discipline1, these questions are still

1 E. Durkheim, Education: Its Nature and Its Role [in:] Education and Sociology, Illinois 1956;

R. Turner, Sponsored and Contest Mobility and the School System, “American Sociological Review” 1960, No. 6, Vol. 25, pp. 855–862.


valid. Moreover, they become increasingly important in the era of the late moder-nity (A. Giddens), risk society (U. Beck), and liquid modermoder-nity (Z. Bauman) when the classic patterns of biographies are redefi ned. In this context, education is sub-ject to change and, at the same time, the mechanism of generating change. Con-temporary expansion of education at all levels, which leads to diploma infl ation and the devaluation of the higher education on the labor market, in eff ect causes the reorganization of the social allocation mechanisms, delaying the entry of per-sons into adulthood and social maturity, and redefi nes certain characteristics of the social structure. At the same, the changed structural conditions aff ect educa-tion. Fluctuations in the global economy and changes in the labor market have redefi ned the pathways into adulthood, built new environment for educational institutions, and aff ected strategies and attitudes towards the educational system among young people and their parents. In which way does it aff ects the function-ing of education systems?

Th ese questions are important also in the context of the European educational policy. Education, along with global economics, appears to be one of the basic tools of unifying societies in the various Member States of the European Union. Th e functioning of similar educational structures may suggest the possibility of a pan-European education, training, selection, and regulation of aspirations. It is also true for wider realm – see as example comparative works under the aegis of OECD. We can indicate several characteristics of educational systems common to most coun-tries:

1. All systems are divided into levels: primary, secondary (divided into two stages: the lower and upper secondary), and the tertiary.

2. In all systems, there is a distinction of separate paths of education and train-ing – diff erentiation for general and vocational education (early selection) 3. All systems experience the expansion of education at all levels

4. A key moment of shaping one’s social trajectory seems to be at the level of upper secondary education, when individuals are targeting a further career. 5. In all systems we observe the processes of selection and allocation driven by

social factors (class, ethnic origin, and gender).

6. In all the systems, one might observe signifi cant growth of students and graduates of the highest level, which inevitably leads to changes of the func-tion of this level of educafunc-tion – the professionalizafunc-tion of higher educafunc-tion. 7. In all the systems, the importance of lifelong learning and diff erent form of

non-formal education grows steadily.

It can be stated, that the functioning of contemporary education in diff erent countries is conditioned by similar mechanisms of social change and all systems


must deal with similar problems: on the one hand, the requirements of a con-stantly changing labor market; on the other hand, the promise of leveling the social inequalities of opportunities.

However, the expression “the European education or Education policy in rope” is a kind of overstatement. Such wording suggests that there is a single Eu-ropean system of education and one coherent education policy in all the member countries (if we narrow the concept for the European Union). Meanwhile, there are as many education systems as there are member states, and even more, because the federal states (e.g. Germany) have independent systems of education in each region. Th e same can be said about the education policy. Each member state (or even region) has its own education strategies, diff erently sees the link between education and the labor, diff erently aff ects public administration, in diff erent ways treat the educational and training institutions.

Th erefore, an examination of the functioning of education requires references to local contexts. A complete understanding of education in relation to social struc-ture requires comparative studies and the exchange of knowledge about micro and macro mechanisms of functioning of education in various socio-cultural contexts. Th ese are, among others, ambitions of the Sociology of Education Research Net-work, functioning in the framework of the European Sociological Association. Meetings during the Congresses of the ESA and the SoE RN Mid-term Confer-ences were an opportunity to ask fundamental questions about the functioning of modern educational systems and discussions on the elements of the universal and local specifi cities in search of theoretical models for dynamic interpretations of social reality. Below, we present a few of the texts, which are the result of those meetings2. All of texts tackle with the general issue of tracking and streaming as

one of the inherent mechanisms of educational systems functioning.

Every school system inevitably realizes four general functions to social system: training, selection, allocation, and regulation of aspiration3. School, described by

Durkheim as the main mechanism of creating social cohesion, always rank stu-dents and puts them on diff erent tracks, preparing them for diff erent occupa-tional and social positions. Aft er the primary phase of education, secondary

2 Th e texts presented in this section are an eff ect of discussions during the Sociology of

Educa-tion Research Network European Sociological AssociaEduca-tion Midterm Conference 2010, EducaEduca-tional

Stratifi cation in Contemporary Societies: Selection, Sorting and Detracking Features, Processes and Outcomes, held at Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences, Athens, Greece, 30

Septem-ber–1 October 2010.

3 E. Hopper, Educational Systems and Selected Consequences of Patterns Mobility and

Non-Mo-bility in Industrial Societies [in:] Knowledge, Education and Cultural Change, R. Brown (ed.),


schooling (specially upper-secondary) is responsible for the selection and alloca-tion to particular social posialloca-tion. In some countries, this process is heavily struc-tured (France and Germany, for example). In others, it seems to be more open and selection is more subtle (USA, Norway). In some systems, selection takes place relatively early (Germany) is postponed in others (USA, England). However, sec-ondary school choice is (always?) the beginning of a separate social trajectory4.

“Diff erentiation” is an inevitable function of schoolwork. In all systems, one might observe the stratifi cation of school paths. General (academic) education is always validated higher then vocational education. Th e former is always perceived as something better, more prestigious, and leading to higher returns from education. In some cases, like Poland, it leads to nearly a complete disappearance of voca-tional education. In Germany, by contrast, the vocavoca-tional track is tradivoca-tionally the main segment of secondary schooling5. Importantly, changes in the modes of

school selection, i.e. diploma infl ation, can lead to a deep reconstruction of occu-pational and social structure. As D. Baker shows for the United States, educational expansion, which led to creation of the “schooled society”, brought changes in work life, as the market adapted to highly educated graduates6. In less developed

coun-tries (post-soviet councoun-tries in Europe), education plays an important role in the process of convergence to late modernity pattern, and stimulates changes in the occupational structure and stratifi cation.

Education is interrelated with social structure in a complex way. From one side, it is a “sorting machine” grouping individuals in diff erent social positions7. From

the other side, through changes in the mechanism of educational selection, struc-tural change occurs. An expansion of education on the secondary and tertiary level leads to an impression of “postponed selection”. It suggests, that labour market, not education, is the main “sorting machinery”. U. Beck describes education as a “ticket to nowhere” since there is no solid and defi nite reward aft erwards. How-ever, the same authors show the “feudalization of education”. And, we see many fi ndings to show the persistence of social inequalities in lower segments of

educa-4 School Dropout and Completion. International Comparative Studies in Th eory and Policy,

S.  Lamb, E. Marcussen, R.N. Sandberg, J. Polesel (eds.), Dordrecht–Heidelberg–London–New York 2011.

5 D.B. Holsinger, R.N. Cowell, Positioning Secondary Education in Developing Countries,

Inter-national Institute for educational Planning/UNESCO, Paris 2000; R. Teese, J. Polesel, Undemocrating

Schooling, Melbourne 2003.

6 D.P. Baker, Th e Educational Transformation of Work: Towards a New Synthesis, “Journal of

Education and Work” 2009, Vol. 22, pp. 163–191.

7 A.C. Kerckhoff , Institutional Arrangements and Stratifi cation Processes in Industrial Societies,


tion8. In fact, the level of integration of the educational system – if there are many

or a few moments of classifi cation – aff ects the stratifi cation eff ect of school. In short, the earlier educational selection occurs, the higher social inequalities in education are9. Stratifi cation of education tracks is accompanied by the social

na-ture of educational selection. Sphere of secondary education is a platform of seg-regation in order to SES, gender, ethnicity, and other factors. In other words, dif-ferent educational tracks are oft en separate social trajectories, occupied by students originating from particular social background. Furthermore, the issue of dropout rates, which varies in Europe from 50% in Turkey to 10% (according to Eurostat) in Poland, aff ects the general picture of the eff ects of schoolwork. Again, social diff erentiation of the risk of being drop out from school should be considered. One of the unintended consequences of educational expansion is persistent inequality in education10, which requires on-going diagnosis of determinants (also systemic)

and mechanisms of the process.

Th e texts presented in this issue take the topic of selection and tracking from diff erent perspectives by showing the mechanisms of social determinants the pro-cess and their consequences. We present here both the quantitative and qualitative analysis, showing the structural determinants and consequences of the operation of the system of education as well as insights into school worlds and analyses of school culture and attitudes of young people towards the school. Th ere are also analyses about the impact of education in a specifi c path of training (as an eff ect of selection and allocation) to the perception of its own future and self-esteem. Th e diagnosis and analysis presented in the following texts paint a picture of the func-tioning of education in diff erent social contexts in Europe: Spain, Switzerland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, and Sweden. We have thus the possibil-ity of insight into diverse conditions of these systems and their performance.

Th e presented set of analyses are not comparative in assumption; it is not the basis to construct generalizations about social mechanisms of educational perfor-mance. To be able to do so, we would need to prepare descriptions and analyses of each system with the same methodological regime. Instead, we present a set of papers of diff erent methodological approaches and with outcomes on diff erent

8 U. Beck, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity, New Delhi 1992; Expected and Unexpected

Consequences of Educational Expansion in Europe and the US. Th eoretical Approaches and Empirical Findings in Comparative Perspective, A. Hadjar, R. Becker (eds.), Bern 2010.

9 V. Dupriez, X. Dumay, Inequalities in School Systems: Eff ect of School Structure or of Society

Structure?, “Comparative education” 2006, pp. 243–260.

10 Y. Shavit, H.P. Blossfeld, Persistent Inequality: Changing Educational Attainment in Th irteen


levels of generalization. Nevertheless, all of the papers confi rm the strong stratifi ca-tion of diff erent school tracks and seem to contribute to the argument that social inequality cannot be diminished through formal education institutions. In addi-tion, they all show how complex the process of tracking and streaming is, which gives us some directions in the processes of building the coherent theoretical model of the impact of schooling on individual life trajectories. Th e complete model needs to include elements of general structural conditioning of education-al system, individueducation-al choice- and decision-making processes of students and their parents; institutional settings and the nature of work of formal organizations (which schools are); culture(s) of each school setting with reference to interactions among students, between students and teachers, and between schools and its cul-tures; and the wider social environment. Such a model would need to include a the-sis on the macro-, mezzo-, and micro-levels accompanied by psychological state-ments about regulations that drive the everyday life of the participants of the school world. We are not presenting such a model here, but each paper contributes somehow to its development.

R E F E R E N C E S :

Baker D.P., Th e Educational Transformation of Work: Towards a New Synthesis, “Journal of

Education and Work” 2009, Vol. 22.

Beck U., Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity, New Delhi 1992.

Dupriez V., Dumay X., Inequalities in School Systems: Eff ect of School Structure or of Society

Structure?, “Comparative Education” 2006.

Durkheim E., Education: Its Nature and Its Role [in:] Education and Sociology, Glencoe–Il-linois 1956.

Expected and Unexpected Consequences of Educational Expansion in Europe and the US. Th eoretical Approaches and Empirical Findings in Comparative Perspective, A. Hadjar,

R. Becker (eds.), Bern–Haupt 2010.

Holsinger D.B., Cowell R.N., Positioning Secondary Education in Developing Countries, International Institute for educational Planning/UNESCO, Paris 2000.

Hopper E., Educational Systems and Selected Consequences of Patterns Mobility and

Non-Mobility in Industrial Societies [in:] Knowledge, Education and Cultural Change,

R. Brown (ed.), London 1974.

Kerckhoff A.C., Institutional Arrangements and Stratifi cation Processes in Industrial


School Dropout and Completion. International Comparative Studies in Th eory and Policy,

S. Lamb, E. Marcussen, R. Teese, N. Sandberg, J. Polesel (eds.), Dordrecht–Heidelberg– –London–New York 2011.

Shavit Y., Blossfeld H.P., Persistent Inequality: Changing Educational Attainment in Th irteen Countries, Boulder 1993.

Teese R., Polesel J., Undemocrating Schooling, Melbourn 2003

Turner R.H., Sponsored and Contest Mobility and the School System, “American Sociological Review” 1960, No. 6, Vol. 25.


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