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Does Education Mirror or Shape Society?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 3074 words Published: 13th Jul 2021

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“To what extent does education mirror and to what extent does it shape societies? (It always does some of both)” (Kemmis & Edwards-Groves, 2018, p. vii).

There are two parts to the question posed by Kemmis & Edwards-Groves (2018), one is ‘To what extent does education mirror society?’ and the other is ‘To what extent does education shape society?’, however Kemmis & Edwards-Groves (2018) then go on to state that it always does some of both

 My stand on this quote is one of strong support, I agree that education both shapes and mirrors society and I believe that the degree to which is does that is as follows:

  • Extent education mirrors society = high 
  • Extent education shapes society = high

In this paper I will defend my above thesis, using a combination of my own personal experience working as a Teacher Aide for the past 4 years and the theory of practice architectures that I learned during my immersion experience and witnessed when observing the teaching methods in the classroom during my immersion experience (McElroy, 2019), I will back up this knowledge gleaned by personal experience with knowledge gained from this unit and the scholarly research I have conducted.

This will all add weight to why I have concluded my stance that education plays a key role in all of our lives and how education has shaped all of us and ultimately mirrors society.

Everyone in society starts with the education they received when they were a young child, this age is very formative and can greatly affect the rest of our lives – it is therefore little wonder that school education plays such a huge part in shaping society and it is my personal view that education is extremely integral to building a successful society.

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Special Education

The primary purpose of education in the special needs context is to develop students to live in, and contribute to, society. As not all students who attend special needs schools are able to speak, I learnt through my immersion experience (McElroy, 2019) that there are numerous ways in which the students are taught to communicate, this is known as Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). Using AAC, the students abilities are evaluated; this includes the individual’s motor, visual, cognitive, language and communication strengths and weaknesses. Through my immersion experience I observed students using a Pragmatic Organisation Dynamic Display (PODD) book, the PODD book uses symbols which the students can point to, this helps the student to communicate (non-verbally) with anyone either in school or in everyday life, which in turn helps the student to feel a part of the school community and ultimately society. (McElroy, 2019)

This matters because without the ability to communicate the student will not be able to feel like they are a part of the community and will also affect the student’s ability to get an education. With increased awareness and social acceptance for alternative communication in mainstream schools and ultimately society, the transition to post schooling life for the student can be done with much greater ease – this is a benefit of our technological advances in society.

The PODD book and other mobile technologies are powerful tools to enhance communication for individuals with developmental disabilities, acquired neurogenic disorders, and degenerative neurological conditions and has given non-verbal speakers the chance to communicate with others effectively (McNaughton & Light, 2013). In my immersion experience (McElroy, 2019) I observed it working like this: the adult language partner modelled (spoke out-loud) the word and pointed to the corresponding symbol to help build the relationship between visual prompt and the sound made when speaking the word, this allowed the learner to develop and understand effective communication – the ability to be able to effectively communicate will mean that they will be able to be integrated in to society with the ability to live like any other person and the capability to make their own choices.

The acceptance of mainstream individuals in society and the belief that everyone should be allowed to have a voice (whether it be a verbal voice or a non-verbal voice) in society was integral to this technology being socially accepted to give it a chance of making it out of the classroom and in to society (The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Communication Enhancement (AAC-RERC), 2013), however there are still challenges to be faced and one of them is ensuring that the focus is always on communication, not just technology (McNaughton & Light, 2013). This is a great example of education mirroring society as the impact of the iPhone on society is starting to be realised, more and more people in society are now accepting the written word as a way to communicate, in 2013 a study showed that 42% of people in the US used smartphones (Sarwar & Rahim Soomro , 2013), the acceptance of this technology by society is an example of a positive impact is has had in the context of society accepting those who are unable to communicate verbally and the alternative methods they use.   

Social Media

Social media is made up of two areas, first the ‘social’ which can be defined as the interaction of people through the use of sharing information and the second is ‘media’ which are forms of communication, for example: the internet and applications (Nations, 2019). By combining these two areas you get ‘social media’ which to define is ‘an internet based communication application to which people are able to communicate information to others via many different electronic devices’ (Nations, 2019).

The implication of this in schools is that they have had to find ways to deal with social media use by students, every school will adopt different rules to how social media is available for use by students and with the large amount of time individuals (especially young people) dedicate to this form of communication it is no surprise that schools are now using social media to deliver news and information to their stakeholders and also to society more broadly (Wade, 2019). With such a large use of social media by society, schools are allowing students supervised and guided use of various forms of social media for their educational needs; teachers are also relying on social media to keep students engaged and as a useful tool for learning, school administrations use social media to advertise upcoming school events, student and staff achievements, share informative newsletters and to engage parents to involve them with the school (Wade, 2019).

The benefits of social media being taught in the classroom and used by schools are:

  • Communication exchange between teachers, students and parents
  • Students develop skills that can be used in further education and careers
  • Students learn different ways to source information for learning through increased networking
  • Teachers use of social media can extend to network sharing of in-class resources, encourage professional development training and engagement being teachers
  • Parents increased insight into their child’s learning and a wider understanding of student and teacher expectations

(Best Master’s in Education, 2018).

It is well reported and researched that the impact of social media is not all positive, the use of social media in schools and the normalisation for the younger generations as they use it for all aspects of their lives is shaping society, one of the negative effects of social media is the ‘Fear of Missing Out’ (FOMO) culture, which has been linked to negative consequences associated with social media and mobile phone use, for example: distracted driving and addiction (Blackwell, Leaman, Tramposch, Osborne, & Liss, 2017). 

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Younger generations are learning how to use social media (for example: YouTube) before they can even write or speak, with the understanding of the framework media as students are capable of navigating through technology from an early age. Social media has engrained itself into the fabric of schools and society and has been successful in providing a very reliable and productive resource that has changed the way we learn (Yvette Wohn, Ellison, Laeeq Khan, Fewins-Bliss, & Gray, 2013), but just as there are positive ways social media is shaping schools and society there are also the negative; as mentioned above, one of the negative effects of social media is the phenomena of FOMO which can have damaging consequences for individuals and society (Blackwell, Leaman, Tramposch, Osborne, & Liss, 2017).

Indigenous Education

The school education of Indigenous young people in Australia is central in the achievement gap (the gap between low-socio students and their higher compatriots), the research points to the achievement gap as being based on cultural differences in learning and these not being addressed (Educating Australia – Challenges for the decade ahead, 2017). With a wide difference between cultures in society the need to make changes to Indigenous education in schools is vital, society is quick to judge students and families for the achievement gap, but to close the gap we need to start looking at what can be done in schools to help close the gap and ultimately change the futures of young Indigenous students and the gap widening even further in society (McKinley, 2017). 

Australia as a nation values the central role of education for building a democratic, equal opportunity and just system that allows Australian’s to participate in civil life.  As a society that is culturally diverse, in order to be cohesive and prosperous we need to celebrate and acknowledge our differences and in order to do that we need education, we all need to understand and acknowledge the value of indigenous Australian’s and the important role they play in Australia’s history and Australia’s future and also acknowledge the skills they possess that contribute to, and benefit Australian society. There are numerous areas in Australia’s education system that require immediate and significant improvement (Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, 2008).

The three areas of Australia’s education difference are: Firstly, as a country and society Australia has failed to improve educational outcomes for the majority of indigenous students and this needs to be made a key priority if it is to be rectified over the coming years (Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, 2008). Secondly, when compared to other high performing school systems in other countries, Australian students from lower socio areas are represented in the ‘low achievers’ bracket and students from higher socio areas are most commonly in the ‘high achievers’ bracket and thirdly, all of these factors add up over time and explain why in 2014 only 59 percent of Indigenous students completed year 12 or equivalent compared with 85 percent of their non-Indigenous counterparts (McKinley, 2017).

McKinley (2017) says we need to stop talking about the achievement gap and start giving our attention to the ‘opportunity to learn gap’ – which refers to the subject content that our students are learning in school. Deep in Australia’s history Indigenous culture has key values that are a part of our nation’s history, present and our future and the reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia’s can only happen if we all are educated on our history, doing so will help to bridge the gap and develop a pathway for Indigenous students to succeed in society (Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, 2008). The vision for Australian education is that the Melbourne Declaration was to support the promotion of equity and excellence in schools so all young Australian’s become successful learners, confident and creative individuals as well as active and informed citizens in Australian society – it was the intention that those two goals would ensure that all students received high-quality schooling that was free from discrimination (Carter, 2018).

At the end of 2018 Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan announced that the Australian Government would be updating the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (Updating the Melbourne Declaration, 2018), the world (and Australia) has changed a lot in the last ten years and while the Melbourne Declaration did have a large focus on improving education for Indigenous students a lot more needs to be done to promote equity in our schools, which will have a flow on effect to be mirrored in our society as these students are the adults of tomorrow.

To make these changes in society we need to start with education and updating The Melbourne Declaration is a good start; however, we also need to dramatically reform the approach to Indigenous education and rework the Australian Curriculum (Hogarth, 2018). Hogarth (2018) is calling for a revolution in Indigenous policy, acknowledging that it will not happen overnight but that we need to start and we need a revolution of Australian beliefs, attitudes and values in order to ensure that Indigenous students’ rights in education are achieved.


When reflecting on my lived experience and my research to critically answer the question posed by Kemmis & Edwards Groves (2018)  “To what extent does education mirror and to what extent does it shape societies? (It always does some of both)”, I found that all of the examples I found to back up my thesis statement that ‘education mirrors and shapes society to a high extent’ the ones that were the most glaringly obvious and in many respects the most important were: Special Education, Social Media and Indigenous Education.

As I reflect on the question ‘Does our education system help us to live well in a world worth living in?’ I find myself answering ‘yes’, despite all of the challenges that I have spoken about in this reflection, for example: disadvantage, racism and the effects of technology. I still find 2019 to be an exciting time to be alive and also embarking on my chosen career as a Primary School Teacher; when I look to the future about what all of this means to me as a future educator, I am reminded of the great power and privilege that comes with the role; I will have not only the ability to change individuals lives, but to also shape society as a whole and that is after all the very reason that I wanted to become a teacher in the first place.


  • (2017). In T. Bentley, & G. Clifton Savage (Eds.), Educating Australia – Challenges for the decade ahead. MUP Academic. Retrieved from The Conversation.
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