How does the role of schools in society differ in functionalist and conflict theories? Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each theory in explaining the role of education in Singapore. And how can the interactionist theory also contribute to our understanding of the role of education in Singapore?



The perspective of the education in Singapore as an institution is based on two macro theories: functionalist and conflict theory. This paper aims at discussing the framework of the two theories, their strengths and weaknesses and to establish to what extent they have been applied to the education in Singapore


Believers of this theory view the society as a social system that is comprised of interdependent parts that aid in its smooth running. They argue that every social institution is made up of these parts that work together for the overall system to function. With regard to the education system therefore, their focus is on the functioning of the school and its organization structure, in making the whole system work properly.

The school structure involves young people being taught values and attaining skills in a classroom environment under the teacher as an authority figure.  The school is therefore important in transferring values to individuals to help them serve their purpose as members of the society. According to Durkheim, this theory poses the function of the schools as that of nurturing morality and an awareness that is important in maintaining order and promoting society stability (Brym 4).


As discussed in Education as a Social Institution: Sociology of Education, those who believe in this theory view the education system as an institution that causes and perpetuates social inequalities. They are of the opinion that the people under any system are forced to abide by the rules of the system and do not do so willingly. They argue that schools are an environment where students are taught to be subordinate to their rulers rather than a learning ground.

There is no common ‘Conflict Theory’ and different theorists give different opinions. Karl Marx describes schools as a place where ideas that serve the interest of the ruling class are forced onto people from a lesser class, making them accept the social inequality implied in the action. Max Weber on the other hand describes the schools structure as organized around the interests of the dominant group in the society.


Strengths. One of the criticisms of the functionalist theory is lack of a distinguishing application of ‘function’ and ‘motive’ as noted by Robert K. Merton (Feinberg and Soltis 38). He argues that schools also serve as a ‘baby-sitting agency’ encouraging parents to work outside the home environment. Although this is not the motive of the school, it is an important function of the school in that it enables the parents to attend to their duties. In this sense, the school serves other purposes far and above its functions, that are also beneficial to the society. Schools in Singapore are no exception to this fact.

Weaknesses. The main weakness of the functionalist theory of the education system is that it is not duly credited for its role in the society. When analyzing the functionality, only the felt or observable function is acknowledged. However there are other functions that are carried out but not directly recognized. Hence the education system in Singapore serves a greater purpose that its given credit for under the functionalist theory.

A weakness of the conflict theory is that the division of the society into status is destabilizing. It leads to discontent and resentment from the lesser group. This only serves to split the people further along lines of social class. This could arguably be one of the underlying reasons for bullying in schools in Singapore. Students placed in a lesser class still want to prove their worth and result to violence.


This is a micro theory that critics the macro theories views of the education system. This theory studies the attitudes and achievements of students, their interaction with their teachers and how the interaction is influenced by the students’ social background by studying their daily interactions and how they react to a situation based on the meaning obtained from the interaction.

How does this theory then contribute to our understanding of the role of education in Singapore? It forms the bridge between the two macro theories by deriving a view based on actual interactions. It gives a better view and explanation of the school system and the process by which students learn, in and outside the classroom.  This recognizes the fact that people are able to learn and adapt to the situations they are in.

In Singapore, the theories of functionalism and conflict apply extensively and so does the interactionalism theory. The schools serve as a learning environment ideally. Values and knowledge are instilled in the students. They however still give the chance to discrimination among the students due to the social and cultural differences. This is seen from the interactions the students have with the figures of authority and other fellow students. The interactionists theory however is more encouraged since it focuses on how the individual views the social world according to the way he interacts with it.

The role of school is mostly positively viewed. But this does not meant he negatives can be ignored. It would only be beneficial if the society embraced the positive attributes and counseled their children to shun the negative.

Works Cited

Brym, Robert J. and Lie, John. Sociology: your compass for a new world, the brief edition. Cengage Learning Inc. 2009. Print

Education as a Social Institution: Sociology of Education, SOC263. SIM UNIVERSITY. Print

Feinberg, Walter and Soltis, Jonas F. School and society. Teachers College. 2004. Print


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