Knowledge is the primary factor which distinguishes human beings from all other species. It is due to this faculty that the human race has progressed so far and erected civilizations. In the modern age of information and industrialization, education is a necessity and therefore, highly structured educational systems are developed to impart knowledge to the people. All people are not born with equal opportunities and privileges however through education, skill, and knowledge, people have a higher chance to move forward in life and improve their standard of living. On a collective scale, educated societies have low poverty, improved law and order, and lower social disparity. In this context, educational systems are of extreme importance from a sociological point of view.

Educational System according to Social Conflict Theory

Social conflict theory is attributed to Karl Marx who proposed that the resources are always finite and different factions of society are in a continuous state of conflict for the getting hold of more resources. Therefore, according to Social Conflict Theory, conflict is the modus operandi of any society rather than consensus. As a result of this, powerful groups in a society use their power to retain existing resources and get hold of more resources. This creates an imbalance and disparity in the society and weaker groups of people often get exploited. Social justice and reform movements are the outcome of this social conflict. Recent examples of social conflict movements include: occupy Wall Street, Me Too, and Black Lives Matter (LumenLearning, 2021).

One of the primary motives of education has been to provide equal opportunity for children to excel in life without any discrimination on the basis of color, gender, or social status. However, the effects of social inequalities also get reflected in the educational system. For example very early on, the performance of children can be correlated to their socioeconomic status (SES). Even in kindergarten, the average cognitive score of children belonging to highest SES group is found to be 60% higher than that of the children from lowest SES group. Despite the efforts to bring racial equality into educational system, the socioeconomic status is strongly correlated to race and ethnicity. 34% of the black children and 29% of the Hispanic children fall in the lowest percentile of SES. On the contrary, only 9% of the white children fall into this percentile. Factors such as family structure and family expectations also play a vital role in the performance of children at school (Burkam, 2002).

Nonetheless, we cannot expect a completely just educational system functioning in a conflicted society. All the other factors being equal at the school, the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic background of children are bound to influence their academic performance and their future social status. Therefore according to social conflict theory, it is impossible to have an equalitybased educational system in a society based on inequality and conflict (CorporateFinanceInstitute, 2020).

Educational System according to Structural Functional Perspective

According to structural functional theory, the society is a complex whole consisting of multiple interdependent parts which must function in unison in order to meet biological and social needs. Herbert Spencer who was the originator of this theory argued that society is like human body where different parts must work together as a whole for the mutual benefit of the entire structure. Therefore unlike social conflict, this theory is based on consensus (Sever, 2012).


From the functional point of view, the educational system is an important subsystem of society which is tied to economic, family, religious, and political systems. Therefore in context of functional theory, the education system must promote harmony and inclusiveness rather than discrimination and exclusion. The teachers in such an education system must act as agents of a higher moral authority and fill up the minds of student with the principles of common good and social morals. According to structural functionalism, the difference in performance and achievement of students is a function of their motivation, interest, and family orientation (Sever, 2012).

Functions of Schooling

According to structural functional theory, schooling serves multiple functions within a society. The description of some of these functions is provided as following:

  1. Socialization: Humans are social beings and therefore it is crucial to teach the young children about the norms of society and how to socialize in a responsible manner. In this context, school is the first breeding ground for social interaction. Young kids gain familiarity with the laws, etiquettes, morals, and traditions.
  2. Innovation: The second important function of education and schooling is to promote innovation and entrepreneurial thinking. Innovation and technology serve as the foundations of modern day civilization. Therefore, in order to advance the society, innovative thinking is crucial. It is the function of schools to develop an innovative mindset in their students.
  3. Social Integration: With the advancement in transportation and communications technology, the world has become a global village. Due to this most of the first and second world societies have become multicultural in nature. However, due to racial and ethnic differences, frictions do exist in such societies. Therefore, it is the function of schools to ensure social integration and promote pluralism and peaceful coexistence.


Formal Education in Industrial Societies

Formal education rate is very high in industrial societies because the expansion of public education was caused by industrialization. The idea of formal education was quite unpopular before the industrial revolution. However, the advent of industrial age created enormous demand for blue and white collar workers. Therefore to shift the focus of general population from farming and other trades towards industry, formal education system was introduced. It was the industrial nations which first made it mandatory for everyone to get a formal education. Due to this reason, the rate of formal education in industrial societies remains substantially high (Carl, 2009).


Burkam, D. T. (2002). Inequality at the starting gate. Retrieved April 2021, from

Carl, J. (2009). Industrialization and Public Education: Social Cohesion and Social Stratification. Retrieved April 2021, from

CorporateFinanceInstitute. (2020). What is Conflict Theory? Retrieved April 2021, from

LumenLearning. (2021). Conflict Theory on Education. Retrieved April 2021, from

Sever, M. (2012). A critical look at the theories of sociology of education . International Journal of Human Sciences.

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