24 April, 2010

Social Capital. Part1: The missing piece of the jigsaw.

When I heard a presentation about social capital a few years ago, I had an ‘a-ha moment’. Since then I’ve explored and read different viewpoints and have reached the conclusion the construct remains the great ‘sleeper’ in education. Truly understanding what social capital is, and how to build it in schools, lies at the heart of improving a range of different outcomes.

One paradox with social capital is that it’s not clearly defined, partly because researchers are still exploring it. Another issue is it’s a difficult thing to measure. In the next couple of posts I want to look at social capital in a school context and try to contribute to solving this fascinating jigsaw in education.

At present there are three different types of social capital: bonding, bridging and linking.

Bonding social capital strengthens ties between similar groups in a way that benefits their members. In a school this means the quality of the range of relationships that can exist. Eg: student-student, student-teacher, teacher-managemnet, parent-school. Consider it as any relationship with the direct stakeholders of the school. ie- inside the walls of the school. Schools, by their nature, overflow with bonding social capital.

Bridging social capital builds ties between dissimilar groups in a way that can have wider social benefits. Bridging social capital that directly effects students might include- a work experience, community service, a student exchange, participating in inter-school events. (cluster/ regional/ state/ national/ international.)Bringing schools together to share resources and link with their community builds bridging social capital.

Linking social capital involves building ties between groups at an organizational level, so the relationship can leverage power, influence or funding. You might think of it as ‘big-picture’ stuff. When schools partner in funding submissions with other agencies a form of linking social capital can see funding granted far greater than a school could receive on its own. Through ICT, teachers or schools have potential to build networks on a global scale that was unimaginable a decade ago. Sharing and collaborating on a global level is an emerging benefit of linking social capital.

In a report titled ‘The Future of Schooling in Australia” (2007), Peter Dawkins explains the achievement gap that exists in Australian Education is accounted largely , to an extent of 70%, by variation in social background- and that this relationship has proven resistant to change over time.

One writer who articulates the potential of social capital, with an evidence base, is Ros Black, senior Research Manager at the Foundations of Young Australians. Black argues, in her book titled 'Beyond The Classroom', the greatest potential in shifting this achievement imbalance in Australia is to develop school climates that actively build bridging social capital.

In the next few posts I’ll discuss social capital in more detail, but in the meantime, if you want to purchase Blacks book articulating her platform for reform and her evidence supporting it, click here.