What is Education? Meaning, Types, Functions, and Approaches

What is Education?

Education is a social institution through which a society’s children are taught basic academic knowledge, learning skills, and cultural norms.

Education is an inseparable part of human life. Without it, human life is incomplete, painful, and hopeless. It stands for deliberate instruction or training. The term education is derived from the Latin word ‘Educare’ which means to “bring up”.

The idea is not only to impart knowledge to the pupil in some subjects but to develop in him those habits and attitudes with which he may successfully face the future. So education does not merely mean to be able to read and write, rather it is a process of the harmonious development of an individual. M.k. Gandhi, therefore, defined education as” A process that brings out the best in human beings body, mind, and spirit.

It is an essential tool for enhancing social development. It is essential to promote change and development in society. To improve the economic condition of a country to exploit means and resources at the optimum level and to maintain brotherhood in society, education is a must. United Nations defines education as fundamental to enhancing to quality of human life and ensuring social and economic progress.


  • Durkheim conceives of education as the socialization of the younger generation. He further states that “it is a continuous effort to impose on child ways of seeing, feeling and acting which he could not have arrived at spontaneously.”
  • Education is the sum total of the experience which moulds the attitudes and determines the conduct of both child and adult.” – F.J.Brown & J.S. Roucek
  • According to John J. Macionis, ” Education is the Social institution guiding a society’s transformation of knowledge including basic facts, job, skill and cultural norms and values to its members.”


Education is not just concerned with the basic academic knowledge that a student learns in the classroom. Societies also educate their children outside of the school system, in matters of everyday practical living. These two types of learning are referred to as formal education and informal education.

Formal education describes the learning of academic facts and concepts through a formal curriculum. However, the formalized methods of learning started only a few hundred years ago. Until, three hundred years ago, few people knew how to read and write. Education was available only to the higher classes in the past. Today, basic education is considered a right and responsibility for all citizens.

Informal education describes learning about cultural values, norms, and expected behaviors by participating in society. This type of learning occurs at home where parents, other family members, and neighborhoods play a role. Through informal education, we learn to dress for different occasions, prepare food, behave others and learn the ethics of life including social and cultural norms, values, and morale.


It serves the following functions,

Education helps complete the socialization process: Although the family gets child, modern family has the access to schools and other institutions which have come into the place of the family to complete the socialization process.

It helps transmit the culture of the society: With the publication of books and by the teaching-learning process, it is possible to transmit the culture.

The social personality is possible: An individual’s social personality is possible with the providing of education.

It helps reform the attitudes: The old and outdated attitudes can be reformed and replaced by new ones with education.

It ensures or creates an environment tog et job: Education is the most fundamental social institution which helps get the job. confers the status:

It confers the status: In the modern world, it confers the status to the individuals.

It fosters democracy: With the proper education provided to the people, democracy can b understood and brought into action for the welfare of the people and society.

Education imparts values: It provides values to the life of the people and such that values are moral.

It ensures the social changes: Innovation of various ideas and beliefs education ensures social changes.

Theoretical Approaches to Education

Sociologists view the role (function) of education from different perspectives as follows;

Functionalist Approach to Education i.e. Functionalism

Functionalists believe that education serves the needs of society by preparing students for later roles, or functions in society. They argue that education contributes two kinds of functions;

Manifest functions, which are the intended and visible functions of education such as socialization, integration, find jobs teach students to conform to law/rules, and respect for authority which is used later in the workplace and community where they live.

Latent functions, which are the hidden and unintended functions of education such as child care, the establishment of peer relationships, the opportunity for social and political advocacy, as well as the ability to develop tolerance to diverse views, etc.

Conflict Approach to Education

While functionalists see education as serving a beneficial function, conflict theorists view it as playing a negative function in society. Conflict theorists view education as a means of promoting social inequality through the use of ‘tracking’ and standardized testing and the impact of its ‘hidden curriculum’. They believe that the educational system reinforces and perpetuates social inequalities such as class, gender, racial-ethnic inequalities. They also argue that the schools train working-class students to accept and retain their position as lower members of society.

To conflict theorists, the privileged class/groups use education (curriculum) as the medium of imposing the elite/high-class values over the disadvantaged or lower status people/groups. They argue that the values, ideals, and lessons education carry is of the high class and that does not match to the students from the lower class as he/she cannot complete the homework due to household chores and helping the parents in economic activities. Such a situation leads to higher competitive ability and skills of children from the high class as compared to those from the lower class. Thus, inequality exists as children from the high class will occupy the high positions and grab the higher opportunities.

Conflict theorists believe that because schools differ in their funding, resources, and learning environment, and this type of inequality leads to learning disparities among the students that reinforce social inequality.

Conflict theorists also point out that tracking the students as bright (High achiever) and dull (low achiever) perpetuate social and the worst of it is that, the low achievers/ performers live down and become humiliated throughout their entire life. They argue that tracking is based on student’s social class, race and ethnicity despite their intellectual abilities. The high class and middle class are tracked up and the poor class is tracked down. Once they are tracked, students learn more if they are tracked up and less if they are tracked down as they tend to lose self-esteem and begin to think they have little academic ability and thus do worse in school because they were tracked down.

Hence, to conflict theorists, educational systems preserve the status quo (current situation) where the high-class elites maintain their culture of domination, power over the poor and working-class people in the society.

Interactionist Approach to Education

The interactionists study the dynamics of the classroom, the interactions between students and teachers, and how those affect, their academic performance and everyday life.

This perspective focuses on social interaction in the classroom, on the Playground, and in other school venues. Research finds that social interaction in schools i.e. interactions between teacher and students that affect how much the students learn. E.g. research found that when teachers think students are smart, they tend to spend more time with these students, call on them, and praise them when they give the right answer.

Not surprisingly, these students learn more because of their teachers’ behavior. But when teachers think students are less bright, they tend to spend less time with these students and to act in a way that leads them to learn less. Another e.g. study found that teachers call on and praise boys more often. Teachers do not do this consciously, but their behavior sends an implicit message to girls that math and science are not for them and that they are not suited to do well in these subjects. This leads to the low performance of girls in math and science.

4 thoughts on “What is Education? Meaning, Types, Functions, and Approaches”

  1. The article is very accurate and relevant or reality of education. For me personally, I absolutely agree with your all statement. Thanks, and keep up the good work.


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