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Social Capital and Education



Stakeholder involvement improves education attainment and its relevance

Family, community and the state influence educational culture
Social capital cannot substitute for financing of education
Education as a source of social capital
Downside of social capital in education

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Suggested reading on Social Capital and Education

Societal levels of educational attainment are linked to levels of economic development. However, financial resources alone do not guarantee positive educational outcomes for students. Considerable evidence shows that family, community and state involvement in education improves outcomes (Coleman and Hoffer 1987; Braatz and Putnam, 1996; Francis et al 1998).
  • The first known reference to "social capital" in its contemporary sense was made in the context of its importance for education (Hanifan 1916).
  • In 1988, James Coleman contributed the first empirical evidence of a relationship between social capital and school drop out rates.

Stakeholder Involvement Improves Educational Attainment and its Relevance

Family, community and state involvement helps to increase the relevance and quality of education by improving ownership, building consensus, reaching remote and disadvantaged groups, mobilizing additional resources, and strengthening institutional capacity (Francis et al. 1998, Colleta and Perkins 1995).

  • A study of Indochinese families in low-income areas of five US cities linked the average and above-average performance of children to parental promotion of education. These parents read to their children regularly and establish times and locations for homework preparation (Caplan, Choy and Whitmore 1992, Hogan 1998).
  • Consultations in Nigeria showed that voluntary organizations, such as Parent Teacher Associations, school committees and other grass-roots organizations, contribute significantly to their local schools’ infrastructure, maintenance, and security as well as in the promotion of school enrollment and attendance (Francis 1998).

Family, Community and the State Influence Educational Culture

Acceptance and promotion of education's importance by the family, community and/or state positively impact academic performance.

  • A study of religious, private and public schools in the US found that religiously based schools had significantly lower drop out rates than non-religious private and public schools (Coleman and Hoffer 1987). This is attributed to the students in religiously based schools being enveloped within a community that reinforces the norms and values of the school.

Social capital in the family and/or community can help children compensate for a lack of other resources.

  • Family social capital, such as parents or siblings helping children with homework regularly, can be an effective buffer against the negative impact of low socio-economic status and low parental education attainment on children's academic outcomes (White and Kaufman 1997).

Social Capital Cannot Substitute for Financing of Education

Successful public education systems require a unique combination of financial, human and social capital that reflects the particular needs of the communities they serve. Financial resources are necessary for facility maintenance, materials, and salaries.

  • While social capital is an effective complement to material resources, research on Nigerian public schools warns that over-dependence on social capital as a substitute for public funding may jeopardize the relationships that make social capital beneficial. If families and communities are relied upon too heavily to compensate for lacking financial resources or they do not have an adequate voice in the decision making process, they may react by turning away from the public system (Francis et al. 1998) by sending children to private school or not sending them at all.

Education as a Source of Social Capital

Recent research indicates that social capital is not only a critical input for education but also one of its valuable byproducts (Heyneman 1998). In addition to strengthening the human capital needed for economic development, social development and state accountability, education fosters social capital-rich networks. Social capital is produced through education in three fundamental ways:

  • students practice social capital skills, such as participation and reciprocity;
  • schools provide forums for community activity;
  • through civil education students learn how to participate responsibly in their society.

Education can also promote societal cohesion and strengthen citizenship when children of all socio-economic backgrounds are enrolled in the public education system.

Downside of Social Capital in Education

Strong social capital among elites can impair public education should those wealthy families opt out of the public school system and choose private schools. This strips communities of financial resources, local leadership and students who are well-prepared to learn. The result is a school system with little political influence to demand public resources and fewer parents who have the time and money to join voluntary school associations.

Similarly family and community social capital can negatively impact youth's attitudes towards education.

  • Wilson (1987, 1996) and Fernandez-Kelly (1995) study the urban ghettos in Chicago and Baltimore. They show that academic achievement of children is low when their communities do not value education and see it as irrelevant because it does not lead to formal employment or improved standards of living.

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