Introducing QUINT PhD Fellow Peter Nicolai Aashamar
Democracy is one of the biggest questions in the world right now. Peter Nicolai Aashamar is on a mission to find how democratic citizenship is taught in Nordic classrooms.
Teaching democratic citizenship is on the agenda. Aashamar's project will compare how this is done across different Nordic countries. Photo: Larissa Lily, QUINT/UiO
Prior to joining QUINT Peter was a high school teacher in Norwegian and social studies. He completed his master’s degree as part of the LISE project that included video analysis of classroom discourse and discussion practices. His PhD study is part of the QUISST project, and will be focusing on a comparative study of classroom practices related to democratic citizenship education.
Quality in Social Science Teaching (QUISST) is a project within QUINT. It provides a comparative study using video classroom data to analyse the quality of social science teaching in Nordic classrooms. The study makes use of classroom videos and student-survey collected in an ongoing research study “Linking Instruction & Student Achievement” (LISA Nordic Study).
Can you tell us more about your PhD project?
In some ways, it is an extension of my MA project. However, we now have a lot more data from different countries, and that is exciting. This is the first time we have a large amount of data from social sciences. That is unique in the Norwegian context. It is also one of the best video-based data collected in Europe so far. For the first time we are getting to know what is actually happening in the social science classrooms.
Is the Nordic collaboration that QUINT affords particularly relevant to your project?
For my project, I am looking at classroom practices related to democratic citizenship education. Comparing several Scandinavian countries is interesting so that we can learn how others are doing it. It provides a lot broader perspective. We have a chance to learn from each other and broaden our thinking about democratic citizenship.
All the Nordic countries are scoring very high on studies measuring democratic citizenship. This is an opportunity to find out why.
What does it mean that Nordic countries are scoring high on democratic citizenship?
The International Civic and Citizenship Education Study from 2016 provided some interesting results showing that students score high on knowledge about democracy and citizenship. The students also report that they experience being able to participate in schools, both in the classroom and in student councils. It has to do with knowledge, values and dispositions, but also the activities in the schools and classrooms.
Is there a unique Nordic model of democracy?
Yes and no. There are many similarities such as strong welfare state, trust, strong belief in democracy, and so on. However, there are also differences between the countries. I am not sure if we should speak of a one Nordic model or just similarities, or different Nordic models. That will be interesting to explore.
The social studies subjects in the different countries are different as well. In Denmark, they focus mostly on political science and sociology. In Norway, it is broader and includes history and geography as well. In Sweden they also include religion.
Why this focus on democratic citizenship?
This is a central aspect in social science education with the new curriculum. Figuring out how to teach democratic citizenship is on the agenda for all the subjects in Norway now. That aside it is one of the most important questions to ask in the world right now.
Democracy is being challenged. We have Brexit and Trump, and we have a media system that goes so fast that we can’t step back and think.
In consolidated democracies like the Scandinavian countries, it is possible that we take democracy for granted. Previous studies have shown that students think of democracy as just voting in elections. This is a thin conception of democracy. The way we teach democracy should be broader than this.
There are other ways to participate in society. Voting in elections is important of course, but it is also important to be active in the community, to discuss with friends and family, and to be active in organisations etc. There are many ways to enact democracy.
Does teaching democratic citizenship include developing skills in critical thinking or thinking for yourself?
I believe this is a crucial part of teaching democracy and will be one of the many areas I will be looking at. I want to find out if critical thinking is taught in classrooms, and how. I believe it is, but that may vary as well.
What other areas will you be looking at?
I will focus on the teaching of democracy. What is included in the concept of democracy is interesting. Do students learn about the different political parties and how. Do they learn about the concept of democracy, and which part of democracy: is it voting, political discussion, or activism?
Then there are values and dispositions, for example democratic values such as human rights or social justice. Or considering what democratic dispositions do the students learn: do they learn to discuss in ways that are democratic, like deliberations? Are there opportunities for the students to raise their voices in the class to discuss political issues from the media? Are they using authentic texts to read about these issues?
There are some studies on conceptualising democratic citizenship, but only in very few cases has this been done in classroom settings. This will be a big part of my project.
Finally, what motivates you and gets you up in the morning?
My work motivates me. What I’m doing is really interesting and hopefully important.
However, what actually gets me up in the morning is my cat. He has a routine of waking me up. The second is thinking about coffee.
Peter Nicolai Aashamar is part of a wider QUINT PhD Fellows Nordic network.