The Globalization and Education Special Interest Group of the Comparative and International Education Society will be hosting a public webinar on December 12 entitled “Puncturing the Paradigm: Education Policy in a New Global Era.” The webinar will bring together the four co-editors of the newly published Handbook of Global Education Policy, Karen Mundy, Andy Green, Bob Lingard, and Toni Verger.
During the lead up to that event, FreshEd will interview the co-editors to set the stage for the webinar. Today I speak with Professor Andy Green about the global education policy of social cohesion.
Although we often think of education policy as primarily concerned with economic development, it also has been historically connected to the idea of creating a cohesive group of people who share certain norms and customs. Benedict Anderson called this “imagined communities.”
Andy Green has looked at the effect from education on social cohesion across the globe.
Andy Green is Professor of Comparative Social Science and Director of the Center on Learning and Life Chances at the Institute of Education, University College London.
Citation: Green, Andy, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 52, podcast audio, November 21, 2016. https://freshedpodcast.com/andygreen/
Will Brehm 2:01
Andy Green, welcome to FreshEd.
Andy Green 2:04
Well, Will, it’s pleasure to be here to talk to you.
Will Brehm 2:07
What is social cohesion?
Andy Green 2:11
Well, social cohesion, fundamentally, is all those properties which bind societies together. So, it might well be common values, common lifestyles, common identities. It may simply be the rule of law. You can define it in quite a number of different ways, and I would say you need to define it quite broadly, though, as the set of attitudes, values, and behaviors that binds societies together. Bearing in mind that social cohesion actually works quite differently in different places. So, I wrote a book some years back called ‘Regimes of Social Cohesion’ with my co-author Jan Janmaat, and we were looking at countries across the developed world, basically, at what factors seem to be holding their societies together. What was the nature of social cohesion in those different societies? And it transpired there were groups of countries basically, in different regions which were quite distinctive. So, for instance, English-speaking countries -which aren’t a region, of course, but have a common cultural history- tended to have a core set of key values, not a strong emphasis on a broad set of common values, because they’re very diverse societies generally. And the key value tends to be about opportunity, and rewards for merit, if you like meritocracy, some people would say, which is a little bit different from what you’d find in countries with Republican systems like France, where there’s much less emphasis on social mobility, but more emphasis probably on equality of outcomes. And where a dominant lifestyle traditionally, with a broad set of values, has been rather more important. Although this is clearly under strain these days. And then again, you get Scandinavian countries where identity and social cohesion revolves very much around their particular forms of welfare state, and a very, very strong belief in those countries in equality of outcomes. And you can find different things again, if you go to East Asian countries, for instance, where you can provisionally sort of identify a form of social cohesion based very much on Confucian values. So, here it’s respect for elders, respect for the state, and so on, as well as a common sense of cultural identity are extremely important. So, it would seem that social cohesion does work somewhat differently in different countries. People do try to develop a single definition, which is okay, in my view if it’s a very broad definition. They also try to measure it with a single set of measures, which is rather difficult because it’s basically a cluster of different things. And the cluster of different properties may be different in different countries. And so, having a single scalar measurement is rather difficult. Very often, though, the key measure is taken to be levels of social trust. That’s to say how far we trust other people, and particularly how far we trust people we don’t know.
Will Brehm 5:43
What’s the connection between social cohesion and education?
Andy Green 5:48
Social cohesion has always been a primary aim along with economic development, and so on and so forth. It’s almost always been there somewhere in the big visions for education systems.
Will Brehm 5:59
So, governments, when they create policy, they would not only see their education system as producing future laborers in the national economy but also creating citizens and members of society that would come together in some form, broadly defined notion of social cohesion with these different values being emphasized in different countries.
Andy Green 6:25
They would. It’s been typical of all newly created public education systems from the early 19th century onwards, that forming of citizens was one of the main purposes of an education system as well as you know, developing skills and so on and knowledge for the economy. It tends to be particularly important in new states, which don’t have a common identity firmly established, or institutions firmly established. Young states always emphasize the forming of citizens is a primary role of education. In older democracies, it’s tended to take second seat to economic development. I suppose skills formation becomes more important than citizen formation, but it’s not disappeared, that’s the important thing. Almost every document that you’ll find coming out of national governments, and indeed, transnational organizations, will refer in some way to the importance of cultivating social cohesion and citizenship and so on through the education system.
Will Brehm 7:34
So, would you be able to say that social cohesion is, in a sense, a global policy of education?
Andy Green 7:43
Yes, I would, but it’s referred to in different ways, perhaps in different international organizations depending on their remit. So, the OECD, the European Commission will use the word social cohesion quite frequently. OECD likes the term social capital as well. If you look at the outputs of, say, the World Bank, or UNESCO, where they’re looking at a wider range of countries, including less developed countries, peace education might well be the main focus, or post-conflict education, education in conflict societies or post-conflict societies. They’re all talking, though, about different forms of social cohesion, really, with different emphasis.
Will Brehm 8:30
So, what sort of education initiatives exist for peace education, or citizenship education, or social capital? Like, concretely, what are these educational initiatives that are either being promoted at the global level or within the national level or perhaps both?
Andy Green 8:51
Well, at the national level, most countries have citizenship education as part of the curriculum. It may be cross-curricular, it may be a separate subject, but it’s there in almost all countries. There may be allied to that a number of procedural things around schools, say, which are designed to boost cooperation amongst children and common understandings and so and this may take the form of schools, councils or these kind of things -so structures will be part of it as well as the curriculum. Other initiatives have been tried in countries in the throes of conflict or in post-conflict societies. Common education across divides, say in Northern Ireland during the troubles, there was quite a strong initiative to build a set of schools which would cross the Catholic-Protestant divide and so on. This kind of thing has been tried in various different societies. Education about the values of peace and so on is something that’s often tried in many conflict-ridden and post-conflict societies. But you could add to that broader concerns about the social society, if you like, and how education could contribute and include environmental education. Notably, education on relationships, on birth control, and family planning, and so on in poorer countries, would be seen as part of education for social cohesion because of its proven very beneficial effects in raising the esteem of women and in reducing population growth, and so on, which it can have all sorts of, you know, social benefits. So, I would extend the range of social cohesion policies quite widely in that sense if you’re talking about developing countries.
Will Brehm 10:59
What has been the efficacy of some of these initiatives? Like, are they creating more social cohesion?
Andy Green 11:08
Well, this is where you have to start making this difficult distinction between what benefits individuals and benefits society as a whole. Politicians tend to start with the easy part, which is measuring the benefits to individuals, and certainly for developed countries -and it probably applies for developing countries as well, although we don’t always have such good data to show it- the general pattern is that more educated people tend to be more tolerant of other values and lifestyles, they tend to be more politically engaged, they tend to show better signs of health, and fewer signs of depression and negative aspects of health. They’re less likely to be overweight as children, and the list goes on and on and on. They tend to vote more in countries as well. So, at the individual level, higher levels of education, particularly up to degree levels, are certainly associated with social outcomes, which most people would consider good. But there are questions about that way of looking at it. There are two sorts of questions. One is ‘was it the education which actually caused them to have those social attributes, or did they have them already? ‘ Is it to do with who is selected what you call selection effects in statistical analysis, which is an important issue because it may be education is not adding that much, it’s the people themselves who go into higher education, for instance? The evidence, though, tends to suggest there is an effect from learning, as well as any effects from selection. So, at the individual level, yes. There are clear benefits to individuals from higher levels of education. They’re likely to be more engaged politically, they will trust more generally, they’re more likely to vote, and they’re likely to be healthier.
Will Brehm 13:21
So, how do we apply that from the individual to the social benefit? Can we aggregate? Can we just look at all of these individual benefits and say, we know if most people in society have these individual benefits, then we have some level of social cohesion? Is that possible? Is that how the policymakers do it?
Andy Green 13:43
That tends to be the start of the reasoning, but it rather quickly breaks down because many of these properties don’t aggregate for one reason or another. So, I mean, to take a quite commonly cited example: generally speaking, more educated people in most countries are more tolerant. They’re more tolerant of other sexualities, other lifestyles, other religions, and so on, so forth. That doesn’t apply in every country, but in most countries, there is a relationship there. However, better- educated countries are not necessarily more tolerant in the aggregate. And what we see in many countries now is increasingly educated societies judged on people’s qualification levels and declining levels of tolerance. So, something else is intervening…It’s not that education is not promoting tolerance; it probably is, but other things are working against it. So, you can have increasing levels of education at a societal level, but it’s not showing up in increasing levels of tolerance. So, you then have to start asking difficult questions about what else is involved in the context which may be working against it, and how far the individual’s tolerance anyway aggregates at the social level to more individuals being tolerantly to a more tolerant society, generally other things being equal. That’s where the difficult questions start to enter in.
Will Brehm 15:22
And so, what sort of theories have been put forward to explain social cohesion at the group level rather than at the individual level?
Andy Green 15:33
Well, you have to start talking about what social scientists call “mechanisms.” So that was the transmission mechanism for individual values, affecting societal values, and so on. And the research that’s done in this area more or less identifies four kinds of effects. The simplest will be what I’ve described already, for tolerance. It will be what we call absolute direct effects. So, a direct effect is where education through learning, or socialization, or whatever’s happening, is having a direct effect on somebody’s attitudes, which carries through into later life. That’s a direct effect. It would be an indirect effect if education was increasing people’s employability, got them better jobs in later life. And if it were the better job that were raising their levels of tolerance. So, an absolute direct effect is one that occurs without any mediation from anything else. And being absolute, it means that it should aggregate. So, most of the research on tolerance suggests that actually, in large part, it is an absolute direct effect. And the argument made by psychologist would be along the lines of higher education raises your cognitive abilities, which makes you better able to disentangle poor arguments, to see behind stereotypes, to challenge the logic of prejudicial kind of thinking. But the second part of it will be education simply, as they used to say, broadens your horizons, you get more experience of different types of people in different countries, different living situations, even if at a distance, you know. You have a wider experience, and that in itself is said to make you more sympathetic to difference and, therefore, you know, the other person. So, education there is making a direct contribution immediately. It may make further contributions later through helping people get jobs, which may make them even more tolerant. It may. But the complication there is that there are countervailing effects from other things. Which may mean that even though education is increasing amongst individuals, and at the societal level, generally, you don’t see rising levels of tolerance. But it’s still a direct effect. It doesn’t mean that education is not helping, it just means it’s not helping enough to counteract things which are having a negative effect. So, that would be the simplest kind of aggregation mechanism. So, you could say that education here is certainly contributing to an aspect of social cohesion. Now, of course, in some societies, such a high value isn’t placed on tolerance as in others, and social cohesion may not rest on it to such a degree. But in most Western societies, tolerance would be fairly key. Another situation would be where you have these direct effects, but in addition to that, you have other effects, which result further down the line from the impact of your education on employment. So, to take the tolerance example, again, you may have been socialized and learn towards to being and having more tolerant attitudes, your higher qualifications may also get you a higher-level job, which may in itself promote more tolerant attitudes through various psychological mechanisms, maybe you feel less threatened by others and so on and so forth. So, that would be a kind of a cumulative process. And then, rather different is what we call relative effects or positional effects. And this is where education is having an effect on something, but it is not the absolute level of education you achieve that has the effects. It’s the level of education of yourself in relation to others. So, it may be that some of the benefits of education result from the fact that you are better educated than others, you get a better job than others. And it’s that better job compared with others that has the social benefits for you. And in that kind of situation, it can be a zero-sum game. You can have more and more people being educated, but it’s only the best-educated who get the benefits. And the classic illustration of this would be work that’s been done by Nie and his collaborators for the US actually on political engagement. And their finding is really that the effects of education on being engaged politically in key activities, and they’re talking about belonging to parties, campaigning for parties, voting, of course, having particular influential roles in parties. They’re saying that actually, this is promoted by education, but it’s strictly positional, in as much as only some people can be at the center of the action, and only the people at the center of the action are going to have real influence. And that, again, is a positional matter. So, it’s only the very best educated, who will get those key roles in party campaigns, that will get to advise people, who will get the ear of important people, who will influence policy and because of all those opportunities they’re having, they’re more likely to be interested and engaged to do those things. And the argument these authors make is that it’s a zero-sum game, basically. There are only a certain number of what they call network central positions where you can have an influence. And twice as many people may have degrees, but it’s still only going to be that small percentage who are best connected and best educated, who will have the effect. So, this is how they would explain why in a country like the US, where people are more and more educated, actually levels of political engagement are going down in actual fact. Voting levels are going down, and so on and so forth. And what’s more, the younger generations, who are more educated than older generations, are less prone to be politically engaged. And that’s why it’s a relational thing, it’s positional. So, not everybody can be the best educated. So, in this case, the effects of education on individuals is not translating into societal benefits at all. It’s translating into some benefits for some people. That’s true probably have quite a lot of the things we think of in terms of the social benefits of education. They are probably of that nature, they are positional. And one other possibility, which is really quite different, actually. But it’s quite important nevertheless, is what you might call or what I would call distributional effects. And this is not to do with individuals. Individuals don’t have distributions. It’s to do with how education and skills, the outcomes of education, are distributed across society. And whether it’s that very distribution that affects social cohesion. And we have done some research on this, which follows a similar logic to a lot of the research done by people like Wilkinson and Pickett on the effects of income inequality on social outcomes. So, the very popular and widely disseminated work of Wilkinson shows that if you look across a range of societies, societies, where incomes are more equal, generally have better health, lower childhood obesity, lower suicide rates, lower mental health problems, they have higher levels of political engagement, and the list goes on and on and on. I mean, so many social benefits, some of which you’d associate with social cohesion, are related to lower levels of inequality. Trust, by the way, is primary amongst those. So, it would seem that it’s hard to explain exactly what’s happening. But it would seem that lower levels of inequality and income, anyway, is important. While in the same way, lower levels of inequality and skills may be important to achieving certain social benefits from learning. And there is a psychological theory behind this, which is quite plausible. It’s quite hard to prove statistically, but certainly, there’s a theoretical model of its believable, and that basically is about in societies with very unequal levels of education, very unequal levels of skill, the social distance between groups of people at different levels tends to be greater. Therefore, compensation tends to be more difficult and suspicion is higher, and trust is lower. But at the same time, in unequal societies, you have more high-stakes competition. There’s much more at stake in any given competition over resources, jobs, housing, whatever it is, there is more at stake quite simply because the top end is a long way away from the bottom end. And the argument that social psychologists make about these situations is that -and actually, you can find it in behavior of animals as well- if you put a lot of people in high stakes competitions, where there’s high levels of inequality, there’s high levels of stress and anxiety, and stress and anxiety is associated with all sorts of negative social outcomes, particularly negative health outcomes. So, those would be distributional kind of relationships which is education skills and positive social outcomes. And here, it’s not how much you educate any individual that matters, it’s really how you spread the education around.
Will Brehm 26:51
So, of these four approaches, the absolute direct effects, the cumulative effects, the relative effects, and the distributional effects, which approach do you normally think is the correct way to approach social cohesion?
Andy Green 27:09
I think it depends on the case. It’s horses for courses. You’re looking at particular values in each case, things you can measure. And in the case of tolerance, I think the argument is pretty strong that it is a direct effect of education, which can be affected by context, as well. But it is an effect of education. If you’re looking at, as I said, something like political engagement, it is pretty positional. And there may be quite a lot of other effects, which are in the same way positional. If you’re looking at trust, I will put that in amongst those things where you have to look at the distributions, how education is spread around. It seems just if not more important than the actual levels of education in the averages in a country in cross-country studies. And this is where policymakers lose touch slightly, I think, because they’re inclined to only look at individual direct effects. It’s easier to comprehend. They’re a bit suspicious of distributional matters even though the evidence is there.
Will Brehm 28:22
Talking about social trust, how is that even measured? How do you go about measuring social trust in a society?
Andy Green 28:30
Well, social trust has been measured, actually, for quite a long time. Going back -for Western societies- at least going back to the 1960s. There was a study by Almond and Verba about civic culture, which had some of the first measures. And it’s been measured, going through with the European value survey and the world value survey starting not long after that, right through to the present day. And they generally asked the same question, which is, how much do you think other people can be trusted? Or would you never be too careful? Or variance on that? So, there’s a pretty standard question they ask people, and it does seem to be tapping into the core aspect of what you’re looking at, which is ‘do people trust other people they don’t know?’ So, social trust is not about trusting members of your family. It’s not about trusting people you know well; it’s not about trusting institutions. It’s about trusting people you don’t know. And it can be, it’s been measured. And it varies across countries very substantially. And it changes over time rather slowly. But the differences are very marked. So, in Scandinavian countries, typically 70 or 80% of people will say they generally trust other people. In some Latin American countries, it goes down to 20%. And we can do various tests to see if they are answering the question in the way we are meaning it to be asked. And it does seem that they are talking about the same thing, which is do they trust strangers. And it turns out that this is fairly crucial to -certainly is central to social cohesion. It’s the only thing that everybody would agree probably is a measure of social cohesion. But it seems to be very important to economic life, GDP growth has been related to social trust, clearly, it’s much easier to conduct business if you can trust people, legal costs are low, and so on. It’s also been linked to innovation and economic life because people cooperate together better. And it’s linked to a whole range of positive social outcomes, not least good health, and, of course, low levels of conflict. It’s almost the inverse of conflict. So, trust is a definable and a measurable phenomena. You could also measure it ‘trust for institutions,’ political trust, which is slightly different. It is important, it has consequences, and it is a key part of what most people mean by social cohesion. And it varies a lot across countries.
Will Brehm 31:30
And so, what would be the connection of social trust to education? Do people learn social trust in schools, or are there other factors learning social trust in families or in religious institutions?
Andy Green 31:48
Well, that is a very good question actually and not easily answered. I mean, a lot of people who write on this will say that trust is a very fundamental attitude, it’s learned early in life, it’s about childhood socialization, you basically learn to trust through trusting your parents, and other members of your family. And I’ve no doubt there’s some truth in that. So, we’re talking about really fundamental socio-psychological properties of people. And in one respect, trust is almost synonymous in that sense with what you might just call normally optimism. You know, you generally expect to get the best out of any situation. Because you feel in control, because you trust others not to cheat, because you think they won’t cheat with you, which has a lot to do with your position and social status, but also your just levels of confidence. So, those childhood influences are extremely important. But the research also shows that circumstances in adulthood do change people’s levels of trust. So, you know, if they have bad experiences as adults, they can move quite a lot on the trust scale. And social contexts then are making a difference, whether it’s childhood contexts or adult contexts. And there is a remarkable and quite wide shifts going on. So that, for instance, in England, something like I think 50%, 60% of people used to say they trust other people, say when I was growing up in the 60s. This is now down to below 30%, which you could argue is a real culture shift. You know, we live in a different type of society now where people are much less trusting of other people. Why does education affect it? Well, that’s not so easy to answer either. It does seem to be true in most countries that more educated people are more trusting. It’s probably partly to do with the fact that they’re more confident and more optimistic. It may be because they’ve been able to rid themselves of some prejudices which might otherwise stop them trusting people. It may be because they’ve been through a school system that really puts a very strong emphasis on people cooperating. And one of the interesting things about the Nordic education systems is that they have children that that cooperation is absolutely a central purpose of learning with young children particularly. And they keep children in the same classes through the whole of school with the same sets of children, the same teachers. And the purpose of this is very much to promote a group of people who learn how to work with each other to share and to cooperate. So, probably it’s both the behavioral things you learn in education which affect it and also the more general effects of education on your levels of confidence. As well as maybe some cognitive things, some knowledge, which is beneficial. So, it’s quite complex, but there’s no doubt the more educated people in most countries are more trusting.
Will Brehm 35:11
So, if social cohesion is a global policy, and most national governments are thinking of something about social cohesion in their education policies. And if social trust is a good measure of social cohesion, what sort of advice would you give policymakers about accurately thinking about social trust and education?
Andy Green 35:41
Okay, well, it is, as we’ve discussed, a key aspect of social cohesion. It should be at the center of concerns and possibly more than it is in policymaking. I would say two things. I mean, behavior is important. Cooperation in schools is important. So, you know how children relate to each other in school, how they’re taught to relate to each other, is building a foundation of cooperation and trust. So, it’s not just about the syllabus, it’s about the hidden curriculum, and so on. It’s about the rules, and the way schools are organized, which is very important. But the other point I’ve made, which arises out of our research, is that you really have to address not only the average levels of education as a society, which is the obsession of most policymakers because of the PISA test and all the rest of it. You’ve got to look at how education is distributed. Countries with very, very unequal distributions of skills are going to be unequal societies, and they’re going to be less trusting societies. We know this almost certainly applies across the developed world in any case. So, you have to look at both. You have to try to raise the general standards of education and skill, but you have to look at how these skills are distributed and try to reduce the rather large gaps that are actually increasing in social gaps in skills in many countries.
Will Brehm 37:17
Well, Andy Green, thank you so much for joining FreshEd.
Andy Green 37:21
Social cohesion as a global education policy