Interview: Julius K. Björnsson from Oslo University, about PISA

“Today’s students learn critical and creative thinking, as well as communication methods -all of which wasn't in the teaching curriculums 20-30 years ago, so teachers have to continually transform themselves"

Interview by: Almir Panjeta
Intervju: Julius K. Björnsson s Univerziteta u Oslu
14 August 2019

Julius K. Björnsson of Department of Teacher Education and School Research-EKVA, Unit for

Quantitative Assessment in Education at the University of Oslo was one of the participants of the two-day workshop "Enhancing the quality of learning in Bosnia and Herzegovina

using the international large-scale assessments" recently held in Sarajevo. The policymakers, education experts, academic representatives, research, international and non-governmental organizations, as well as parents and young people who are motivated to learn more attended this workshop organized by UNICEF with support of Norway. Julius K. Björnsson talks about teachers of the 21st century, the importance of continuous teacher education and why it is important not to fall into the trap of copying things from other countries.

Which skills should a teacher in the 21st century have?

Teachers in the 21st century must have good knowledge of basic things and to have solid wide experience and knowledge of not only reading, mathematics and science, they also have to know how to apply teaching methods for these subjects. That’s perhaps the most important thing – how to combine teaching methods and subjects.

What is the importance of continuous teacher education?

The point of this is that things are changing very fast. The best example is the digital revolution. Teachers that went to school 40 years ago and have not kept up with the developments are out of date. This is not the only area where things are changing. Things are changing quickly in the definition of what the kids are going to learn. It’s not anymore just the learning of basic reading, mathematics or science, they are learning critical thinking, deep thinking, methods to apply creative thinking, how to communicate and a lot of other things that weren’t in the teaching curriculum 20-30 years ago, so they must continually transform themselves.

Last year Bosnia and Herzegovina participated for the first time in the PISA testing and we are awaiting results. How can this data help teachers in their work?

I think it will help the teacher very much if they take it with a positive attitude. Because there are going to be some nice results, and some less nice results. That’s always what happens, and you must take what you can use. There are going to be, for example, differences according to social-economic status, you are not going to be able to change that quickly. You must concentrate on the variables, on the things that you can do something about. For example – equity in schools, resources in schools, teacher education, support for the schools, and that’s you can do something with that has an impact.

What are the main advantages and results of PISA and TIMSS studies and what are the differences between them?

If you look at what comes out of these studies, and you are participating in both PISA and TIMMS, and that’s a positive thing. TIMS looks at the curriculum, basically measuring what kids learned in school. PISA is measuring what have they learned that they can use in the future. It’s more focused on the skills they need as adults. You must be able to combine results from these two studies, and if you do that, then you are on the way to something better

In this part of Europe when we say, “perfect education”, most of us think about “Scandinavian education”. What could we learn or take from Scandinavians?

There are perhaps some things that you can use from those systems but don’t fall into the trap of copying things from other countries, it doesn’t work. People have been trying that for years, copying things from China, Singapore or Hong Kong, because they score very high, and that doesn’t work. You must take what comes out of your results and you have to adapt it to your culture and your school system and let the school system work with it in its way. That’s the way to get results, not by copying something else.