The purpose of this paper is to examine the UK education system and how it distinguishes amongst children as being an integral element of the social procedure and what makes them to be differentially absorbed into the broader sections of society. Although such a differentiation is important, the established processes may not be of much relevance if the present differences in attainment in education can be proved to be a consequence of the inborn and natural differences amongst people. This paper will examine the explanations given by social scientists in regard to the differential patterns of attainment in the UK education system.
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The fact remains that children have varied abilities and intelligence levels, and the prevailing education system just replicates such differences in indicating the levels of attainment, such as for example, passing of examinations. However if such a belief is true all sociological reasoning for differences in educational achievements will become redundant. It is indeed logical to assume that the innate and natural forms of explanation immensely lack in their validity which further provides for the need to explain from the sociological perspective of differential achievement. This is primarily so because differences in this regard stem from social factors that are prevalent within society and the education system.
The hidden patterns of differential educational achievements are dependent upon differences existing between social classes, males and females and ethnic groups. In understanding the British educational process it is necessary to understand why achievements are different across these categories. Besides the belief that intelligence depends upon the inherent genetic characteristics there are other explicit sociological factors that focus on areas outside the education system which add to the pattern of differential attainments. Besides this, the inherent characteristics of the education system have a strong bearing on the interaction processes in schools which result in differential achievements.
The differences in the level of educational achievements can be understood by accepting that there are inherent differences in the intelligence level of children, differences in social background in terms of family organization, cultural organization, socialization and poverty. The differences in education patterns also have a strong bearing on levels of attainment. Hidden curriculum, self fulfilling prophecies and labelling amongst teachers and peer groups are important factors that influence the prevailing educational patterns in society. A closer look at each of these categories can enable one to ascertain the degree to which they can be utilized in constructing the explanations for the different educational attainments across ethnic groups, gender and classes.
One reason for differences in levels of educational attainments is the extent of inherent intelligence which varies with class, gender and inheritance. These differences are explained with the argument that they replicate the natural aptitude and ability. However in order to get a thorough understanding of this concept a common definition of intelligence has to be assumed by social scientists otherwise the accuracy and validity of the studies will not hold ground. According to Giddens (1996), intelligence refers to “what IQ tests measure” (Giddens, 1996). But what he implies by measuring is open to debate since a definition of intelligence has to be created first. Nevertheless, the ability to define intelligence is a major aspect of the testing process. According to Arthur Jensen (1973), the American psychologist, intelligence is the measure in regard to “abstract reasoning ability…a selection of just one portion of the total spectrum of human mental abilities” (Jensen, 1973).
Having defined intelligence the next issue concerns the measurement of intelligence. Psychologists rely on IQ testing such as the tests conceived by Eysenck and Binet, but they have been disapproved by sociologists since they cannot always be reliable and valid in different situations. IQ tests have been criticized by Vernon and Kamin on the basis of their being culturally specific.
It is also required to understand the extent of relationship amongst genetic inheritance, intelligence and the environment. Genetic inheritance does not enable one to recognize differences in educational attainments. It is also very difficult to differentiate between genetics and environment. After a child is born, his environment has an immense influence on his development because socialization takes place with the prevailing beliefs, customs, values and norms which manifests his cultural settings. It is also true that there is no significant relationship between intelligence and a person’s work environment, which is aptly demonstrated by O’Donnell “shows that the socio-economic background into which an individual is born conditions the likelihood of success or failure in both the educational system and wider society” (O’Donnell, 1987).
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- Giddens Anthony, Sociology, 1996, Polity Press
- Jensen Arthur R, Educational Differences, 1973, Methuen
- O’Donnell M, A New Introduction to Sociology, 1987, Nelson Thornes Ltd