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What are the purposes of formal and informal education?

What Are the Purposes of Formal and Informal Education?


Hamline University
EdD Written Exam #3













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I never questioned why I went to school, when I went to school, what I needed for
school, or the importance of school. The concept of education has been ingrained in me
since I was born. My mother was a teacher, and my father was a physics professor, so it
was understood that college was the next step after high school. The only question was
where I would go to college.
I grew up in a lower to middle class family and there was no college fund for my
two older brothers or myself. Financial Aid would carry us through our college years.
Because of this support, my mother started preparing us for higher education at a very
young age. We were always high achievers and were told to dream big, so we did. Formal
education was a given for my family. It was understood that formal education was, is, and
always will be a direct path to future success.
Being in the business of formal education, I will always promote the benefits it has
for our children; however, both formal and informal education serves individuals and
promotes development for varied purposes.
A Snapshot of US School History
There has not always been open access for all children to formal education in the
United States. Certain groups have been privy to formal education in the US as it was
viewed as a privilege, and not a right. Children who lived in the country only received a
formal education if the people living in that area could hire a teacher and put together the
resources for a school. Even then, in a one-room schoolhouse, there were multiple ages of
children with inadequate supplies and accommodations. Schooling was not compulsory and
nowhere was it entirely tax-supported (Kaestle, 1999). During the Industrial Era, it became
apparent that an informal education was more highly regarded than a formal education. It
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was during this period from 1750-1850 that children were often exploited and forced into
labor (Kaestle, 1999). They were expected to work in fields such as agriculture,
manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology. This had a profound and
devastating effect on the importance of formal education in the country. However, as new
technologies replaced jobs that children once held, the job market shrank for minors. Laws
passed which restricted child labor, in turn pushing children out of the workplace and into
school. Historians look to a string of economic and social factors to explain a boom in
secondary education. There were 18 million immigrants new to the United States between
1890 and 1920, including many more Americans who left their farms for the crowded and
industrialized cities (Schnaiberg, 1999). The shifts in those populations provided the
numbers needed to sustain large high schools. In 1852, in Massachusetts, the first
compulsory-attendance law passed in 1852. Almost five decades later, 33 more states and
the District of Columbia had followed. These laws were primarily aimed at 8- to 14-year-
olds (Schnaiberg, 1999). Changes were seen in the 19th century, as regions in the new
republic shifted toward more financial support for public schooling, more so in the
elementary grades (Schnaiberg, 1999). As the years progressed, the education system did
likewise, but it still left portions of the population marginalized. As middle and upper class
families could afford the luxury of sending their children to school, the lower class and
minority groups were left to suffer. In 1913, a survey of Atlanta's black schools found that
enrollment exceeded seating capacity by 2,111 children, and that students without seats
were forced to stand or sit on the floor (Hendrie, 1999, p. 2). Over 5,000 children received
just three hours of learning a day, with 60 children per class. Despite petitions from its
black citizens, the Atlanta School Board made no provision for black high schools until
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1920 (Olson, 1999). In addition to African American children, migrant workers children,
children with special needs, and immigrant children did not always receive formal
education or equal education. Formal education has left many men, women, and children
marginalized. Despite colossal progress, the opportunities students have to learn, and how
well they are expected to do so, vary based on where they live, what their parents earn, and
their skin color (Olson, 1999). It's as if, having invited everyone to the banquet, some are
served an appetizer and others a five-course meal (Hendrie, 1999, p. 1) The Social
Efficiency Movement in Education led by Franklin Bobbitt, tracked students into blue
collar and white collar jobs, somewhat determined by their class. The purpose of
education, they argued, was to prepare youth for the specific work and citizenship roles,
which they would hold when they reached adulthood, and in so doing render society more
orderly and stable (Bobbitt, 2012). This model was used to create St. Paul Community
and Technical College in Saint Paul, Minnesota. In the book, The White Architects of
Black Education: Ideology and Power in America, 1865-1954, William Watkins (2001)
investigates the ideological and political foundations of the "miseducation of the Negro" in
America. He illustrates the structuring of segregated education that has troubled the United
States for much of the 20th century. Even to this day, people use formal education to
categorize people.
Advantages Allow Accessibility
Formal education provides advantages that informal education does not. There is a
belief among some societies that a person with a higher education is more respected and
revered. Their value grows, so to speak. Job and career opportunities may widen and
potential economic position may increase. hooks (1994) discusses how the groups who
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employ essentialism and have the authority of experience find ways to dominate in
institutional settings, often imitating paradigms for asserting subjectivity that are a part of
the controlling apparatus in structure of domination (p. 81). This exclusion marginalizes
certain groups while asserting presence and identity for the select few (hooks, 1994). This
may shift a persons societal or professional positionality. This could be related to the
Pygmalion effect or the self-fulfilling prophecy (Senge, 2006, p. 80), which could offer
benefits or drawbacks to the individual. The benefit is a small change builds on itself
(Senge, 2006, p.80) and it provides movement in the same direction (Senge, 2006, p. 80).
The more education you have, the better off you are. A student becomes a teacher, who
then attains an advanced degree to become an associate professor, who then decides to
pursue and complete a doctorate in order to be fully tenured at the university. The
drawback is when those small changes build on each other, a reverse and negative effect
that is often unforeseen and unintentional called compensating feedback (Senge, 2006, p.
58) may take place. This term in systems thinking illustrates that when a person works
harder, it may backfire on them. If you acquire more knowledge, people expect more from
you. The more effort you expend trying to improve matters, the more effort seems to be
required (Senge, 2006, p. 58). That same student who became a fully tenured professor
now sits at her desk trying to keep up with the demand of papers she needs to publish,
committees she is expected to chair, and the internal pressure of doing better than the last
time to impress her colleagues and peers in the field. People always expect more when you
have more, whether it be knowledge or material possessions.
Shifting the Burden
In education, just as in our own personal lives, we sometimes shift the burden
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(Senge, 2006, p. 103) to prevent confronting a problem we have ourselves created. A
society that deems formal education as the pinnacle of progress often fails to see how
individuals within that same society regress. They shift the burden of the problem to those
who have been marginalized, when in fact they have caused the problem (Senge, 2006).
This is a universal phenomenon and it is most apparent in a society that has unequal access
to education for its citizens.
A person may be talked to or talked about in higher regard but in some circles in
lower regard where informal education may be more highly valued. There is, in any case, a
system of formal education set up for people to participate in, depending on their age and
situation. Although institutions vary from place to place, the commonalities of preschool-
Grade 12, post-secondary institutions, alternative education, and adult education exist in a
multitude of countries worldwide.
Formal education affects the world in astounding ways. Three broad categories
countries fall into based on their Education Index are: high, medium, and low human
development (UN Human Development Report, 2009).

Education Index. 2009 UN Human Development Report.
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Based on the above graphic, an assumption could be made that human development
is tied to formal education. What assumption could be made about the regions with low
human development? Is it fair to assume that informal education is more highly regarded,
or is it necessary in these parts of the world? What forms of education exist in the regions
of low human development?
Differing Values
Informal education is juxtaposed with formal education in that it holds merit in
certain societies and regions of the world. It involves a type of education not offered in the
classroom. This type of education may be what is available or necessary in a particular
area. The most powerful learning comes from direct experience (Senge, 2006, p. 23).
Senge (2006) discusses how learning can be a delusion, whereas experience is realization.
He speaks of how we all have a learning horizon (Senge, 2006, p. 23) with which we can
assess our own effectiveness (Senge, 2006, p. 23). With informal education, we are able to
directly experience the consequences of many of our most important decisions (Senge,
2006, p. 23). For instance, if you live in the country and you work on the farm to help
support your family, your education may be learning how to harvest and tend to livestock.
A farmer is able to see the direct result of their actions if they do not harvest at the correct
time or take care of their livestock. It could result in infection, insufficient food supply, or
ultimately death. Informal education may also be learning how to sing with the family
band, sewing to make paj ntaub in Thailand, or running a business with your mother and
father at the outdoor market in Nigeria. There is no degree you receive upon completion of
your first calf delivered or a profitable day of selling mangoes at your kiosk. The value of
informal education is that a skill, experience, and culture deepen. This is sometimes far
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richer than the degree that hangs framed above your desk at work. You continue to pay an
institution back for years into the future without the guarantee of your dream job, while the
farmer works hard during the day but makes his own hours. The flipside is formal
education allows less strain on the body and more demand on the mind. For each person,
what type of education is more highly esteemed is relative to that individual and the society
in which they live.
Need-based Informal Education
Informal education can be brought to yet another level where is it a matter of
survival to understand a trade or skill for bartering or monetary return. In areas of extreme
poverty, survival skills trump formal education. In her book, The Power of Mindful
Learning, Langer illustrates how evolution is crucial to understanding how intelligence is
perceived. Although we are not discussing evolution, the concept of adaptation and
necessity with education could be tied to this theory. Langer states intelligence is an
ability to retain and organize perceptions that enhance our chances for survival. The more
closely our conceptual map corresponds to the contingencies of our environment, the
greater our chances for survival (Langer, 1997, p. 105). Since the majority of the students
I teach were born and/or raised in refugee camps or under oppressive conditions, survival
skills were at the forefront of their priorities. These children are denied a formal education
based on one of, or a variety of the following reasons: female, poor, distance from school,
no means of transportation, special needs, no citizenship, forbidden to leave the camp, the
wrong culture/clan/caste, speak the wrong language, work all day to support the family
(even as a young child), parent younger siblings so their parents can go to work, live in the
jungle or forest, villages are being burned down and they are constantly on the run,
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orphaned, forced to be child soldiers, caught in a civil war, forced to be slaves, and the list
goes on. For these reasons, formal education is not a priority in many peoples lives,
surviving from day-to-day is. This survival is connected to informal education. It is an
education that swaps a book for a needle, tool, or machine. The teachers transmit
information that is just as crucial as the education we receive sitting in a desk with a pencil
and paper. These students are learning to live, based on their situation. This form of
informal education is a direct path to food, shelter, and staying alive.
Conclusion
Although formal education seems to carry prestige in society, informal education
has its merits. On the other hand, both types of education have their drawbacks if they are
used to oppress or deny another human being of their basic human rights. A person who
uses their knowledge base to develop humankind has proven that any type of education is
necessary and beneficial. The purposes of formal and informal education are not as
transparent as one may think; you need to understand the individual before you label him.
Formal education is not always the direct path to future success; however, every child on
Earth should be given the opportunity to start the first sixteen years of their life with a
foundation in it.
After working with refugees for over a decade, I have seen what a lack of education
does to a child. What has been given as a right in the United States is seen as a privilege in
other parts of the world. Informal education is very valuable in the growth and well being
of peoples abroad and domestically. However, formal education is one of the few
mechanisms that are capable of shattering the glass ceiling that exists in the workplace and
that sustains hierarchical structures. While I value informal education, I am in the business
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of formal education and my hope is to empower marginalized young people to disrupt
economic hierarchies.





















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