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I recently received a letter from Professor Dr. Jochen Krautz, a professor of art education at the University of Wuppertal. Dr. Krautz is a critic of the PISA examinations, for reasons he makes clear in the posted article, which he wrote with economist Silja Graupe.
The article is aptly titled “From Yardstick to Hegemony,” and it analyzes the steady expansion of PISA, first seen as a yardstick, but eventually evolving into a means of disrupting the cultures and educational systems of every nation it tests.
As early as 1961, the OECD issued a conference volume in which its goals were clear:
The conference was explicitly not about setting standards which would do justice to respective national traditions of education and education policy. On the contrary, the new standard was geared toward overruling all traditional concepts. The same conference volume states that, with regard to developing countries, it would be “nothing short of cutting a million people loose from a way of life that has constituted their living environment for hundreds or thousands of years. Everything achieved by these countries‘ schools and education until now has served social and religious aims which have primarily allowed for resignation and spiritual comfort; things that completely go against any economic sense of progress. Changing these century-old approaches may perhaps be the most difficult yet also most important task for education to accomplish in developing countries.”5 It is important to note here that the OECD includes the nations of Europe in this circle of developing countries. Germany, for example, “due to its decentralized school administration system (…) may also be considered a somewhat underdeveloped country with regard to its education policy“.6 The obvious consequence is that Germany is to be subjected to cultural uprooting as well.
The OECD program has declared war on the established plurality of educational goals and discourses (which have consistently reflected and renewed these goals) in order to replace it with a single novel concept: “Schools should lay the very foundation for the attitudes, desires and expectations motivating a nation to pursue progress and to think and act economically.”7 It is no longer about teaching people how to set their own standards in a socially responsible manner. Instead, the goal of education is to achieve “competency in constant adaptation“,8 particularly with regard to adaptation to abstract economic demands. The OECD Conference documentation of 1961 declares unequivocally:9 “It goes without saying that the educational system must be an aggregate of the economy, it is just as necessary to prepare people for the economy as real assets and machines. The educational system is now equal to highways, steel works and chemical fertilizers”.10 Thus the claim can be made “without blushing and with good economic conscience“ that “the accumulation of intellectual capital is comparable to the accumulation of real capital – and in the long range may outmatch it”.11 The OECD has adhered to this same human capital theory until the very present. In the OECD book Human Capital of 2007 one reads for instance that “individual capabilities” are „a kind of capital – an asset just like a spinning wheel or a flour mill” which can “yield returns”.12 Congruously the OECD has since 1961 considered education to be an „economic investment” in humans,13 where teachers – as the “production factor”14 – and students – as the “raw material“15 – play a decisive role. Today the willingness and ability to adapt is even considered by the OECD as a core competence.16 Its concept of literacy – embodied in the term reading competency – has meanwhile become the basis for Germany’s education standards and is primarily geared to “how well adults use information to function in society and the economy”….
The environment to which pupils and students are to adapt is not the economy of real experience but rather a mere ideal concept generated by mainstream economists, particularly those of the Chicago School of Economics who, in their pursuit of “economic imperialism”18, have applied it to education: Its concept of a market is a purely abstract super-conscious price and coordination mechanism according to which all human activity must be aligned. What this unrealistic worldview setting in turn impedes is any critique or will to change because rather than being understood by the public as a theoretical construct it is, according to the neoliberal economist August Hayek, accepted by most as an immediately evident truth.19 Whether they are true or false, economic theories and all assessments based on these (such as PISA) determine reality. Those who choose criteria as a yardstick for everything else establish an arbitrary point of standardization where verification need not be feared.20 These ungrounded criteria then become – untested and without further thought – the defining norm for all further actions. As long as people believe having more PISA points is better than less in order to be successful economically they will, of course, do everything they can to acquire more. Education is then forced to uncritically yield to the pressure of comparative assessment, even if it is based on pure assertion.
If you believe that education should be based on humanistic goals, or that it should be tied to concepts of democratic citizenship, or to some other paradigm, you are out of luck. PISA has decided that the purpose of education is economic competition and development.
Please read this essay. It is enlightening.