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Education under the Regime of PISA & Co.: Global Standards and Local Traditions in Conflict—The Case of Germany


by Richard Münch — 2014

Background:The PISA study (assessing the competences of 15-year-old students in their mother tongue, in mathematics and in natural sciences) deals with the benchmarking of the OECD member states when it comes to meeting globally defined educational standards. Transnational educational experts now form the most powerful group within the "education" discourse and have made the concept of human capital the dominant paradigm.

Focus of the Study: The article is focused on the conflicting ideas of education behind the PISA study and the German school system. It addresses the changes taking place in the German school system enforced by compliance with the educational standards set by the PISA context.

Research Design: The concept of literacy applied by the PISA test is confronted with the curriculum and typical lessons in German secondary schools to find out how far they converge or diverge.

Findings: Evaluating the PISA test 2000, German researchers explicitly point out that the tasks set in reading, mathematics and sciences comply with the Anglo-American model of generally usable basic competences, which differs substantially from the German model of a varied and differentiated education. Typically, German students did exceptionally well in solving exactly that math problem, which was related to a specific field of mathematics, namely Euclidean geometry. In contrast, they were less successful in handling inner-mathematical basic problems. The concept of the reading tests, too, is far from the syllabus of German language lessons. While, in Germany, a wide scope of literary texts is being covered, the PISA test is dominated by discontinuous non-fictional texts such as instructions for use, technical descriptions and tables. Also, the 2000 PISA test in natural sciences deviated substantially from the syllabus of German schools. The test focused on basic competences of understanding scientific concepts, processes and exemplary fields of application across the subjects. In contrast, classes in Germany are subdivided into physics, chemistry and biology, while basic competences across the subjects can be acquired implicitly only, but are not taught explicitly.

Conclusions: Whoever wants to defend German school lessons against PISA might doubt the assessment's validity basically (Jahnke and Meyerhöfer 2006; Rindermann 2006, 2007). In any case, it does not measure what German schools want to teach their students in the context of their educational idea and tradition. Nevertheless, the PISA process is part and driving force of a major transformation. At the end of this transformation, the ideal of education as internalization of a cultural tradition embodied in accumulated knowledge will be replaced completely by the guiding principle of education as formation of competence and human capital. Basically, institutions may remain in a state of uncertainty for several decades, but nevertheless they have been deconstructed and robbed of their consecration so that the ground has been prepared for a profound change in the sense of conformity with the PISA structures.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 116 Number 9, 2014, p. 1-16
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17532, Date Accessed: 12/12/2017 10:41:21 PM

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About the Author
  • Richard Münch
    Otto-Friedrich University of Bamberg, Germany
    E-mail Author
    RICHARD MÜNCH is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Otto-Friedrich University of Bamberg, Germany. His research interests are in social theory and comparative macrosociology. Most recently, he has focused on the impact of international competition and international organizations on the changing fields of higher and secondary education. His most recent publications include: European Governmentality. The Liberal Drift of Multilevel Governance (Routledge, 2010); Inclusion and Exclusion in the Liberal Competition State: The Cult of the Individual (Routledge, 2012); Academic Capitalism. Universities in the Global Struggle for Excellence (Routledge, 2014).
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