Teaching Practices and Social Capital

Teaching Practices and Social Capital

Issue/Topic: 21st Century Skills
Author(s): Algan, Yann; Cahuc, Pierre; Shleifer, Andrei
Organization(s): Ecole Polytechnique; Harvard University, Department of Economics; Sciences Po, Department of Economics
Publication: National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper
Published On: 1/1/2011

There is some evidence that a greater quantity of schooling leads to higher social capital and has other desirable non-pecuniary benefits. Social scientists have argued that social capital, broadly defined as "the capacity of people in a community to cooperate with others outside their family," is an important determinant of various social outcomes, such as the provision of public goods. This study focuses on how students are being taught and the effects of teaching practices on social capital.

To explore how teaching practices transmit or impact social capital


1. Teaching methods vary systematically across countries.

2. Teaching practices are related to social capital and institutional quality at the country level.

3. Differences in teaching practices also influence student beliefs across schools within a country. Teachers differ a lot in their reliance on vertical and horizontal teaching practices. Moreover, teaching practices vary considerably not just across schools but between teachers within schools.

4. Horizontal teaching practices, such as working in groups and asking teachers questions, seem to promote the formation of social capital, while vertical teaching practices, such as teachers lecturing, seem to discourage it.

Policy Implications/Recommendations:

Social capital in the community can be altered through teaching practices. Moreover, there is a substantial and growing body of thought that non-cognitive skills, which seem intimately related to social capital, have an economic payoff as well. The relationship between teaching practices and economic performance of students is one of many open areas that need to be explored.

From ECS: This study provides some support for the consistent integration of 21st century skills and higher order thinking skills into K-12 curriculum and instruction. Those teaching methods that facilitate greater interactions among students have differential but positive outcomes in comparison to teachers with a more “vertical” approach to teaching, in which teachers primarily lecture, and students take notes from the board.


Research Design:

70,000 students, 7,000 teachers and 4,000 schools from approximately 23 countries

Year data is from:
1995, 1999, 2000 and 2003


Data Collection and Analysis:
Analysis of three multi-country data sources: (1) the Civic Education Study (CES), run in 1999 in 25 countries to assess the level of civic knowledge of mostly 14 year olds in the 8th and 9th grades, (2) the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), conducted in 1995 in 33 countries and focused primarily on the 8th graders, and (3) the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), conducted in 2000 and 2003 for 15 year olds in 36 countries

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