Education and social capital

Education and human capital have significant roles in the creation of social capital (Schuller et al., 2002). Both education and human capital are closely linked. Education often refers to mainstream schooling and is often labour market—focused, whereas human capital is the knowledge, skills and capabilities that a person possesses that allow them to function in all aspects of social life. Human capital is therefore quite reflective of the broad, whole-person developmental view of education. According to the OECD (2001), the key skills and personal attributes relevant to human capital include communication skills, literacy and numeracy, intrapersonal skills and social skills. By developing these areas of skill and competence, people become more confident, enjoy increased self-esteem and begin to identify more strongly with themselves. This in turn facilitates them in participating more readily in society either in the workplace or the community setting (OECD, 2001). These categories of human capital are reflective of the broad approach to education, encompassing more than just the traditional notion of education but also reflecting the aspects of learning that enhance the person and enrich their life. This is illustrated by Weiss (1995: 151), who states that

education does not have to be justified solely on the basis of its effect on labour productivity. . . . Students are not taught civics, or art, or music solely in order to improve their labour productivity, but rather to enrich their lives and make them better citizens.

The impact of education on social capital

Education is one of the most significant predictors of social capital (Putnam, 1995, 2000; Brehm and Rahn, 1997; Helliwell and Putnam, 2007; Huang et al., 2009). Social capital and human capital are both widely regarded as being associated with social status. In such a meritocratic world, education is seen to be about sorting people into their appropriate place in society (Nie et al., 1996). As well as increasing skills, knowledge and civic participation, education is concerned with the distribution of opportunities for gainful participation (Nie et al., 1996). Therefore, where either human capital and/or social capital are lacking, it will have a strong impact on social exclusion and societal equity (Helliwell and Putnam, 2007). The better educated a person is, the more able they are to compete for opportunities and a place of influence in society, thus increasing their own social capital levels (Nie et al., 1996). The number of years in formal education is the single strongest determinant of many aspects of social capital (Glaeser, 2001). Education is not simply the acquisition of knowledge or human capital. It will also involve learning social skills such as behaviour in social settings, cooperative skills and positive interaction with peers (Fuller and Clarke, 1994; Glaeser, 2001). Furthermore, engagement with sports, groups and societies throughout school and college, including membership of fraternities and sororities, all serve as methods of social skill development and network creation that can be drawn upon later in life (Fuller and Clarke, 1994; Glaeser, 2001). This may also mean that those who leave school at an early age may miss out on vital sources of social capital, as opposed to just human capital, compared to those who remain in education.

Higher levels of education are associated with higher levels of social trust (Helliwell and Putnam, 2007). People with higher levels of social trust are more likely to engage with others and participate in community life, finding this more enjoyable if there is a sense of trust and tolerance among people, thus enhancing social capital. Schuller et al. (2002) maintain that the impact of education on social capital is diverse. Conceptualising social capital as civic skills and engagement, social networks and social values, Schuller et al. (2002) found that education has a role in building each of these elements. Learning has a direct and indirect impact on civic skills and engagement, occurring by way of skill and knowledge acquisition (Schuller et al., 2002). As people learn more about society, they are more willing to participate, by voting for instance. Indirectly, as a persons confidence in their own knowledge and competencies increases, it allows them to feel capable of social and civic participation (Schuller et al., 2002).

Family and social ties, both of which are an important aspect of social capital, are also enhanced by education. Swanson et al. (2012) found that those with the highest levels of education perceived their social support from family and friends to be higher. The converse was true of those who had not finished high school (Swanson et al., 2012). Social ties can also be established with potential mentors through education programmes that can subsequently provide access to opportunities and build social capital (Lafferty et al., 2016). Schuller et al. (2002) propose that educations impact on the enhancement of family and social ties is achieved in four ways, namely by extending social networks, enriching relationships, repairing broken ties and dismantling anti-social networks (Schuller et al., 2002). Networks can be extended through education as people begin to meet like-minded people and can also be an important source of bridging social capital as people are introduced to more senior authorities and potential employers within their area of learning (Schuller et al., 2002). In terms of enriching and even repairing social networks, Schuller et al. (2002) note that increasing levels of respect and self-confidence have an impact on relationships with partners and wider family due to things like improved communication, interaction and relations, thus enhancing social capital. Education can also have the effect of dismantling certain relationships. This may be relevant to the current study, where education may result in dismantling relationships with anti-social peer groups. Schuller et al. (2002) note that self-esteem and confidence can allow people greater insight into their relationships and identify the negative aspects of certain relationships. A deficit in social time can also result in severed bonds as a person spends more time in education and less time with friends. Furthermore, participating in education can also alter a person’s personality, outlook and characteristics and as interests change, this has an impact on the people they bond with. Each of these points were reflected in Chapter 6 in the narratives of the ex-prisoners when they spoke about how prison education had caused a distance and drifting away from friends as their own interests changed and they no longer had as much time for friends due to college and study. While Schuller et al. (2002) see this as somewhat of a disadvantage of education, in the context of prison education and the impact of anti-social peer bonds on offending, severing ties between an offender and peers may be a distinct advantage of education and social capital in the desis-tance process.

In line with Mezirow (2000), Schuller et al. (2002) found that education promotes an “open-mindedness” in relation to the world and of other people. Some of those men who participated in Schuller et al.’s (2002) study reported that they tended to look at people and things differently after becoming more educated. This is echoed in the interviews of those in the current study who reported that they developed a new outlook on life and insight into themselves, which is a reflection of the level of open-mindedness that can develop through education. Certain subject areas were seen to enhance particular values; history and sociology, for example, had an impact on empathy. Finally, some of those interviewed reported that through education, they found new, more appropriate ways to interact with people and this contributed to strengthening social ties, social networks and social capital (Schuller et al., 2002).

Impact of social capital on educational outcomes

Coleman (1988) was primarily responsible for introducing the concept of social capital to educational research, emphasising the importance of surrounding young people with adults who are embedded in their community and have strong social networks. This is because social capital is seen to have a significant impact on educational outcomes. Those from communities or families characterised by lower levels of social capital are likely to be more at risk of early school leaving and being marginalised learners, thus limiting the life opportunities of the person (Coleman, 1988). There is a relationship between levels of initial and continuing education and levels of social participation and trust which illustrates a virtuous and reciprocal cycle between both human and social capital (OECD, 2001). This may go some way to explaining why so many of the prisoners described their previous experience with education in quite negative tones. They did not connect with this structure, they did not trust or respect teachers and they felt their teachers did not respect or trust them. There was little in the way of positive reciprocity' that could foster social capital, and their own human capital suffered as a result. Those with low levels of education, skills and ability' are at much higher risk of social exclusion by way of unemployment and lower earning expectations (OECD, 2001). Education, social background and access to social capital may act together to influence life chances (OECD, 2001). Therefore, education and the acquisition of skills play an important role in the formation of social capital and thus have a potentially strong influence on the desistance process. This point will be raised again in the upcoming section where the potential theoretical links among prison education, social capital and the desistance process are discussed.

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