It can bring about a change in the pattern of social relationship and thereby it may cause social changes. One of the purposes of education is to change man and his life and living style. To change man is to change society only.
There was a time when educational institutions and teachers were engaged in transmitting a way of life to the students. During those days, education was more a means of social control than an instrument of social change. Modern schools, colleges and universities do not place much emphasis upon transmitting a way of life to the students.
The traditional education was meant for an unchanging, static society, not marked by rapid changes. But today, education aims at imparting empirical knowledge, that is, knowledge, about science, technology and other type of specialised knowledge.
Education was associated with religion. It has, however, become secular today. It is an independent institution now. Education today has been chiefly instrumental in preparing the way for the development of science and technology.
Education has brought about phenomenal changes in every aspect of man’s life. Francis J. Brown remarks that education is a process which brings about changes in the behaviour of society. It is a process which enables every individual to effectively participate in the activities of society, and to make positive contribution to the progress of society.
As Drucker has stated that the “highly educated man has become the central resource of today’s society and the supply of such men is the true measure of its economic, military and even its political potential.”
Modern education has changed our attitude and outlook. It has affected our customs and traditions, manners and morals, religious beliefs and philosophical principles. It has removed to a great extent the superstitious beliefs and unreasoned fears about the supernatural beings. It has widened our vision and removed our narrow ideals, prejudices and misunderstandings. Higher education has brought about more refined behaviour.
Education has contributed to a radical improvement in the status of women. Educated modern women no more tolerate the double standard of morality. It has helped them to seek employment outside the family. Particularly, mass education in civilised societies has fostered the sense and the feeling of equality.
Referring to the relation between education and social change and development, Peter Worsely points out “that education reflects society, and educational change follows social change”.
Though education conditions development it itself is a product of prior social and economic changes in society. Further, education is an independent factor in social and economic development producing intended and unintended consequences and conflicts of values and goals.
Education is an important means of attaining social and economic rewards of society. It has become essential for the economy. Education has now become a large-scale and a highly visible organisation. Education is now controlled by the dominant groups of society so as to meet their definition of society’s needs.
Changes in the educational system condition social and economic changes, greater social mobility and more skilled man-power for technologically based industry. Planned educational innovations, policies and programmes may contribute to the social integration and a more highly educated labour force and electorate.
Education has been playing a great role in getting occupations which are key determiners of general social status. Thus the schools are agents in realising the desire for upward social mobility.
In many highly industrialised societies the proportion of people in the manual working class has steadily declined. It is so in the case of America, Britain, France, etc. The schools have been instrumental in transforming the occupational structure and modifying the class structure as well.
In most developing countries education is regarded as “the gateway to an improved social position.” Hence one may find an unsatisfied demand for education in such countries. This is especially true in the case of a developing nation like India. Educational change in these countries can effectively proceed only if corresponding changes take place in the other aspects of their social structure.
Where education is a condition of social and economic change, it is more likely to produce intended consequences. This happens because educational change is following other changes in society.
The social context is thus favourable to particular change. For example, educational reforms, designed to raise educational standards among low-income people have become more successful in Cuba than in Guatemala.
This has been so, because, in Cuba, more than in Guatemala, educational change has followed social and economic changes enabling the low-income people to take an active participation in the development of national society. As far as India is concerned, there is no proper coordination between educational changes and socioeconomic needs.
Education increases political awareness among poor people also. This would bring about wider political changes with the increasingly organised participation of people in national politics. Modern states, particularly the totalitarian ones, have made education an installment for establishing their regime.
Under authoritarian principles, the control of the school touches every aspect of education. The teachers are carefully chosen and supervised, and deviations from the party line are severely punished. Students of all ages must be given nothing but the truth as the ruling elite see it.
The principal of a school in Moscow once said: “the prime duty of the Soviet teacher is to train our younger generation for the work of building communism”. On the contrary, in the democratic countries there is the belief that “The State is for man, not man for the State”. Education is made free and open. Here, education makes a man to become more conscious of his rights and also of his duty to provide and guard similar rights for others.
Education is expected to contribute to ‘progress’, to modify the cultural heritage as well as to preserve and transmit it. In modern industrial societies educational organisations have become innovators. They are gathering and storing new knowledge and are promoting change in the process of transmitting that knowledge.
It is now widely held that educational system should dedicate itself to the task of bringing about desirable changes. The emphasis upon research in universities reflects the judgment that discovery itself is good. For the first time in history, societies are marshalling their huge resources and talents to make advances in knowledge through educational organisations.
Changes do not take place with equal rate of speed in all areas of life. Generally, there is more enthusiasm for change in areas of material culture than in non-material culture. Through educational researches any kind of innovation can be made to maximise production and minimise cost.
When education challenges cherished traditions, it becomes the object of some hostility. Education cannot be used as an instrument to bring about any kind of change. Because education operates in the context of other institutions and is constrained by them.
As Alex Inkeles has pointed out, different levels of education have different levels of effects. In the developing countries primary school education is enabling whole population to do things they would never have been able to do before.
Literacy helps them to read labels on cans, bottles, tins, to read sign boards, newspapers, birth-control leaflets, to move around the strange city, etc. These events are social changes. In the developing countries primary school education is more important than higher education.
Even though widespread primary education can have a great impact upon people in the developing countries the ideological content of primary school education remains almost conservative. Because, governments organise school systems in a stereotyped way. There is less or no scope for the teachers to make researches or to become revolutionary leaders.
It can be said that basic literacy brings a society into the modern world. But only higher education provokes persons to question the values of everyday life. The high school or primary school teacher is not as free to speak critically as the university professor is.
At elementary level of education students normally live with their parents at home and hence not free to entertain ideas which their parents may dislike. On the other hand, at the university level, the intellectual work requires students to do more critical thinking than they might do at a lower level.
University student movements have often been the major force demanding social change in many societies. A decade between 1960 and 1970 witnessed a large number of student upsurges resulting in social and political changes.
For example, in China, India, Japan, America, Germany, France, Italy, England, Indonesia and in many other countries students agitated for various reasons causing vast changes. In some cases, the student movements stood with the establishment and in majority of the cases they tried to discredit, transform or topple governments. The students are today a new social force of incalculable significance. But student movements have been far less active in the late 1970s than a decade ago.
It is true that college educated persons are still the most progressive group in society whether they are quiet or vocal in calling for social reform or change. More and more persons are receiving higher education. Majority will attain a degree.
If that is so, it means that society will contain a “built in” engine for social change. As long as universities continue to occupy an increasingly important place in society, so long changes are bound to be initiated through education in some way or the other.