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Who makes us think as we do about education

Daniel Pettersson

”We have been allocated 8.4 million Swedish crowns from the Swedish Research Council to investigate the influence of international agencies on the educational sector,” says Daniel Pettersson, docent of Pedagogy at the University of Gävle.

Over the next three years the research team will study how international agencies shape our ideas about what education is and should be.

It all started when the team studied international student assessments and the research that uses data from amongst other things PISA and TIMSS investigations; evaluations that make comparisons between different countries.

“It is fantastic that we are the next largest project to be granted funding by the Swedish Research Council, and in fact the project that receives the most funding between 2017 and 2019. It is also very gratifying that the University of Gävle is the institute of higher education that in this particular allocation of funds received the fourth highest amount of all the higher education institutes,” says Daniel Pettersson.

International comparisons

International comparisons of educational results (e.g. PISA and TIMSS) play an important role in discussions on educational policy and in the assessment of quality and development of educational systems.

The number of research programmes has increased in the last few years and in the twenty-first century more than ten thousand articles and books in this field have been published. The expansion not only indicates changes in the world of research. It also reveals a change in society – amongst other things a transition to a knowledge-based society with more facts and knowledge being accessible to increasing numbers of people.

In this respect the position of research and science changes, it is more positive to meetings between visitors with different interests and proposals. The boundaries between science and society become more flexible and the conditions for the production of knowledge and establishment of facts and truths change.

“It is very important to analyse the significance of these changes for educational research,” says Daniel Pettersson.

Questions that the research group want to answer concern the structure of education in a knowledge-based society. How are facts about education, their deficiencies as well as opportunities for change, established, and what does this mean for the direction and governance of education?

The paradigm of comparative education

By looking at changes in the educational sector the research team will locate what they call a comparative paradigm, where comparisons between educational systems and students has become the prevailing praxis for giving opinions on the status of educational systems and students in different countries.

“This paradigm of comparative education creates repercussions in how we think about education and how we structure the curriculum for students. From this determined paradigm we suggest that it is of crucial importance to analyse which repercussions this has on the educational system of the welfare state,” says Daniel Pettersson.

Research questions of the project

The project aims to study and analyse the repercussions of the paradigm on comparative education, how it has developed over time, how we think about education, what it is, also which effects it has on how we shape and measure educational results. From this introduction the project aims to answer the following research questions:

  • How has the paradigm developed over time within an educational debate? What did the lines of argument look like and what effects have been generated in the educational system?
  • What role do the international assessments of knowledge have to play in the creation of a paradigm of comparative education? How has research in this field developed? Who are the dominating participants within this development and where are they located?
  • What are the definitive effects of an active paradigm of comparative education? Which reforms have been realised and who supports those reforms?
  • What effects does a paradigm in comparative education have on the production of educational facts and what importance does it have for the replication of educational expertise? How are teacher training and third cycle courses within educational sciences affected by the paradigm?

In order to find answers to these questions the research group will carry out studies in how views of education in the Swedish welfare state have changed over time in relation to the visibility of the paradigm of comparative education in politics, research, and mass media and with the reformation of curricula. In addition studies will be made on how knowledge of education is redefined in relation to the paradigm. When this takes place there will be an opportunity to answer an even greater question that deals with the confrontation between science and society. In the project that arena for the debate regarding science and society will be called the agora. In order to analyse activities in that agora a final question is raised which deals with:

  • How is the arena defined regarding science and society in view of the paradigm of comparative education working within how we think about education?

From this interest in how knowledge of education is formed within a paradigm of comparative education, we can contribute with knowledge of how educational facts and debates about education are updated and contribute to the structures, educational practices and educational research.


Daniel Petterson, senior lecturer in Pedagogy at the University of Gävle
Sverker Lindblad, Professor of Pedagogy at Gothenburg University and guest professor at the University of Gävle
Gun-Britt Wärvik, Docent of Pedagogy at Gothenburg University
Thomas S Popkewitz, Professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

For further information, please contact:
Daniel Pettersson, Senior Lecturer in Pedagogy at the University of Gävle
Tel: 026-64 82 32, 070-258 46 19
Email: daniel.pettersson@hig.se

Text: Douglas Öhrbom
Photo: Ove Wall


Published by: Douglas Öhrbom Page responsible: Anders Munck Updated: 2016-12-19
Högskolan i Gävle
Box 801 76 GÄVLE
026-64 85 00 (växel)