Concepts, cultures and comparisons: PISA and the double german discontentment


  • Daniel Tröhler University of Luxembourg

Palabras clave:

PISA ideology, cultural self-understandings, comparison, Germany, Bildung


This paper analysis the emergence of the lively or even fierce public and academic discussion on
PISA in Germany, which he explains as a clash of two very different cultural self-understandings.
To begin with the author clarifies the relationship between three fundamental concepts which lie
at the heart of the debate in Germany: competence, Bildung and knowledge. The attempt by some
German PISA experts to mate competence and Bildung has caused major irritation and raised
scepticism in Germany. At the background of this conflict lies, according to the author, a ‘clash of
cultures’ between American pragmatism on the one hand and the German concept of Bildung on the
other. Bildung resists being operationalized, is meta-useful and is, finally, unmeasurable. The
author interprets the German PISA dispute as a double discontent. On the one hand PISA is calling
into question the traditional German concept of Bildung by focusing on the outer world (‘to meet
real-life challenges’) rather than focusing on the development of the inner world (Persönlichkeit).
On the other hand the PISA results also irritate the PISA experts who had to realize how little their
educational project of the harmonious “One World” of free, globally interacting and economically
secure citizens had been realized. This is particularly true for Germany, where poor national unity
and coherence was greatest, indicated by the vast differences between the PISA results of the
immigrant and native students.