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Swedish expert on knowledge assessments to Tokyo

Daniel Pettersson

Daniel Pettersson, researcher in educational policies at the University of Gävle, is invited as keynote speaker at a major conference on education in Tokyo in October.

“I am going to Japan to explain how knowledge assessment in Sweden has affected school policies. I am delighted and it is also means our university is recognised,” Daniel Pettersson says.

Daniel would like to show that discussions initiated by the Program for International Student Assesment (PISA) already take place in Sweden and what their focus is. Students’ merits need to be assessed in some way, and we have done that in our school system for a long time, as have other countries around the world.

“What Pisa does, is that it steps in and takes over the discussion and suddenly Pisa becomes our direction indicator. But there are other international student assessments as well.”

Weighing the pig

Who owns the mandate in relation to educational policies in different countries has shifted. In Sweden, we have more national tests today, that is more instances when we control student knowledge.

“We imagine that if we perform more controls, student performance will improve. If we weigh the pigs several times, we imagine that it will weigh more.”

Daniel points out that all over the world today, one is increasing the number of assessments, but that doesn’t really solve the problem.

“Assessments are good, if they are used with moderation, but one should know why one is using them.”

Governing from a distance

Sweden was early in applying knowledge assessment and has set great store by them. They have grown in importance and politicians use them increasingly.

“Today, it has taken over and it is from there that schools are governed. You govern from a distance. However, the former system wasn’t good either,” Daniel points out, “as all governing mechanisms that come from above take away some power from those who are closest to the problem.”

“I am quite convinced that the ones who are closest to the students are the ones who have the best solution. But then they need to be allowed the possibility to carry out their ideas.”

The 14th-century monk

A 14th-century monk said: “When you look at the world, there are two perspectives. There is the giant’s perspective with his blurred vision, but he sees far and he sees a lot, and then there is the dwarfs’ perspective with their sharp focus; they can see a little, but in great detail.”

“Depending on how you choose to look at the world, you will receive different responses, and that needn’t be a problem as long as you are aware of that. The problem arises when someone uses the giant’s cloudy gaze as if it were that of the dwarf. And that is my fundamental critique of how PISA is used.”

“Actually, PISA is gigantic macro study with decent success rate, but it does nothing for the teachers in the field.”

It is you who were better

Daniel says that time will tell if this was a good approach. It is easy to look back and say that everything was better in the good old days.

“I usually say that things weren’t better in the past, it is you who were better,” Daniel Pettersson says.


Daniel Pettersson is a reader in education and researcher at the University of Gävle. International student assessments are part of his research interests.

In media, he is well-known from the debate on PISA and Timss surveys.

Daniel Pettersson is also chief editor of Nordic Journal of Studies in Educational Policy.

For more information, please contact:
Daniel Pettersson, reader in education at the University of Gävle
Phone: 026-64 89 58, 070-258 46 19
Email: Daniel.pettersson@hig.se

Text: Douglas Öhrbom

Published by: Douglas Öhrbom Page responsible: Anders Munck Updated: 2017-10-16
Högskolan i Gävle
Box 801 76 GÄVLE
026-64 85 00 (växel)