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In this essay I will provide a reflective evaluation of some key concepts in education. In particular I will be focusing briefly on the social, cultural, political and historical contexts in which education processes are embedded. The impact of globalisation and learning environments will also be explored as well as the effect of current policy initiatives which are aimed at raising standards and promoting inclusive learning.
The study of education draws upon many disciplines such as sociology, psychology, politics and history to name a few and it is important to appreciate that it is a complex area of study. Education is important in the political arena because of its ideological basis. Questions about the social, cultural and economic purposes of education have always been the subject of contentious political debate. (Carr and Harnett 1966:17) Education plays a key role in the functioning and development of any society. It shapes individuals as well as the society that we live in.
Learning is a life long process which begins from the moment of birth and learning experiences vary from person to person. It is not limited to formal learning in classrooms and there are a number of different ideologies put forward which explore the meaning and purpose of education. Whilst the functionalist approach suggests that education benefits society as a whole and that it serves to maintain social order, conflict theories argue that the education system operates as a way of reinforcing the class system. Classical humanism, conservatism and traditionalism place emphasis on knowledge, while instrumentalism, revisionism and economic renewal theories emphasise the role of society.
According to Vygotsky an individual has to interact with his/her social environment for there to be any meaningful cognitive growth and in order to acquire knowledge. Vygotsky stated that in the course of learning a person will undergo a variety of internal developmental processes that are only able to take place when the child is interacting with people in his environment and in cooperation with his peers. Once these processes are internalized, they become part of the child's independent developmental achievement (Vygotsky, 1978). In my own experience I have found that I learn better when I am in a classroom setting surrounded by my peers. This allows me to focus on the task without outside distractions. I also find that conversations with my parents, teachers and peers both formal and informal have helped me to reflect on what has been taught and promote deeper consideration. I agree that it is only after some time spent reflecting and discussing ideas do they become more "solid "to me.
Bourdieu and Patterson (1977) suggest that,"one main way in which education ensured the reproduction of society was by passing on of cultural values from one generation to the next" He argues that it is dominant middle class values that schools endorse and that as a result middle class pupils are more able to take advantage of the system as they are already "in tune" with it. I am from a middle class background and the value of education has always been made clear to me. I have always been told that education provides access to opportunity and a larger world view. In contrast, I know other family members who are from working class backgrounds who struggle to find value in education and even when they try they face problems. They have been labelled trouble makers and disruptive influences and in some cases this has disguised special educational needs which they are too embarrassed to disclose. Here it is clear to me that the system does in some cases reinforce social inequalities.
In addition to social class the nature of family relationships also impacts learning. Gabriel (2004) states that "the significance of family relationships for their children's well being and sense of identity is now increasingly being taken in to account by researchers and professionals working with children" I have always had a strong sense of identity as my parents often told of stories relating to my great grand father who won a medal for bravery in the second world war. This has always given us a sense of pride in that he left us a legacy of bravery and courage that we were all expected to live up to. Also I am a mature student and I wanted to let my own young children see that their father was working hard to make something of himself.
The influence of the mass media also has a huge impact on learning. Marsh (2005) states that "the media plays an increasingly important part in secondary socialization as children are bombarded with images both visual and verbal through television, radio, books, newspapers and now computers." From a personal perspective I enjoy access to the media and I watch TV and read books and newspapers however I have noticed that there is a lot of emphasis on a " get rich quick culture", where young celebrities seem to be rich and famous for nothing in particular (Paris Hilton). I think that this sends the wrong signal to children who expect to be rich and/or famous without ever applying themselves and certainly education and hard work do not seem to be valued as much as they used to be.
The term globalisation has been widely debated with the common theme that it refers not just to the geographical spread of activity but the development of common strategies which emphasise internationalism. Globalisation raises issues of changes in knowledge production, curriculum formation, pedagogy and the creation e learning communities. Ritzer refers to this process as the "McDonaldization" of society which he argues leads to the dehumanisation of education and the elimination of human teacher inter action. Interestingly, with these changes in educational practices and policy there can be seen a clear globalization of European-American cultureIt may be argued that information technology most notably the internet is responsible for globalisation of the educational community. Students like me have access to countless e- learning resources such as Google and Wikipedia as well as more sophisticated materials and e- journals and there is also the availability of Virtual Learning Environment. I use the internet frequently but still prefer to learn from books as I find this easier. I think that this is probably a reflection of my age as I was always told to read and this is how I have been "trained" to learn. I do however appreciate the ease with which the internet allows me to research as this saves me huge amounts of time. I have a family and time is usually precious. I do not use the internet as a social networking tool and as such do not consider myself to be part of any global on line community.
Interestingly, Burbules (200:331) argues that the internet is too diverse to be considered a global community and instead states that it is more of a Meta community where there is a set of overarching communities and conditions where communication is made possible. Klein (2000) criticises the "logoization" of the internet as a space where social relationships are defined in a space defined by Virgin, Nike, and Micrsoft.
I think that although the media presents a great opportunity to explore the different ways of completing a task it is not enough simply to rely on it alone as refection is required both to understand and to apply what is learnt in practice.
The socio economic environment where learning takes place can greatly influence academic performance of a student as well as the time that is spent in an academic environment. The physical architecture of a school, the layout of classrooms, colour schemes as well as the school facilities will all play an important part in the effectiveness of the learning environment. Studies show that students do less well in noisy, overcrowded classroom environments. However it is important to note that to some extent the teacher will have influence on classroom design and that would be influenced by the educational rationale of the teacher. A traditional, student-directed teacher may layout the class with rows of desks placed in lines whilst a Humanist teacher might prefer a more open-plan design.
The previous Labour government aimed to open up access to education whilst raising standards. This has led to the development and recognition of teachers as professionals and the setting of targets with the emphasis being on accountability. Education is rife with alternative ideological policies and successive governments will continue to evolve the education system. The previous decade has seen the growth of policies placing emphasis on differentiated learning, inclusion and every child matters. As result teachers have adapted teaching to take account of flexible learning styles, group and peer group strategies. At the same time teachers themselves are subject to target and performance appraisals which place them and schools under a great deal of pressure.
From a personal perspective I am pleased that these policies emphasise a more liberal approach toward teaching. Not everyone learns in the same way and differentiation clearly recognises this. What is clear is that to be able to function in modern society certain skills are essential such as reading, writing, arithmetic and ICT skills. In relation to my own experiences I have found that I have enjoyed the education processes more now when I am a mature learner than I did as a child. I have worked in various types of employment and the value of these basic skills is clear. It is impossible to obtain any recognition without these tools. Promotion is given to those who have proven skills evidenced by certificates and no matter how hard and well you work you are unable to progress.