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Capital or people – what is the true purpose of education?

Tanweer Ali (Center for International Programs, Empire State College, Saratoga Springs, New York, New York, USA)

On the Horizon

ISSN: 1074-8121

Article publication date: 13 February 2017




The purpose of this study is to present the book Education, Economy and Society, edited by Salim Vally and Enver Motala (UNISA Press, Pretoria, 2014), which highlights the main concepts introduced and discussed.


The study primarily summarizes the critique of human capital theory (HCT) which is developed in the book. This is done using different approaches and is comprehensive in scope. The study also introduces some of the alternative visions of education as presented by the contributing authors. The author of the review also draws on other literature which addresses the same fields.


HCT dominates the discourse on the role of education in society, but the concept is hard to measure and evidence of its importance is scant. Despite the criticism of this theory, it continues to dominate the mainstream economic theory.

Research limitations/implications

The main premise merits more systematic study, ideally drawing on more extensive literature, and extending beyond the confines of any one country. As a review, this study aimed to maintain a focus on this one important collection.

Social implications

HCT tends to promote a view of education as a tool of material economic progress. This excludes a discussion of social justice and de-emphasizes the role of education in advancing individual fulfilment and in strengthening democratic values. A view of useful human activity outside of production within a corporate environment is also ignored. This book covers all of these ideas.


This study draws attention to an important book which discusses the proper role of education in economic development and critiques policy making in South Africa. The book is broad enough in scope to be of relevance to educators, academics and policy makers in the developing and developed worlds.



Ali, T. (2017), "Capital or people – what is the true purpose of education?", On the Horizon, Vol. 25 No. 1, pp. 4-6.



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