International Panel on Policy and Practice
in Mathematics Education: 2001 Report

Mathematics Education Around the World: Bridging Policy and Practice

July 19-23, 2001

Pioneer Park, Park City Utah

Introduction

Teaching children mathematics is a central element in educational systems across nations and within countries. International studies such as the Third International Mathematics and Science Study measure student achievement and collect information on factors about schools, teachers, and curriculum that may affect this achievement. Each country has its own struggles within the context of its own culture. An International Panel on Policy and Practice in Mathematics Education sponsored by the Institute for Advanced Study/Park City Mathematics Institute (PCMI) engaged in a stimulating five-day discussion about common issues and concerns in the teaching and learning of mathematics. The Wolfenson Family Foundation, the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, and the International Commission on Mathematics Instruction funded the seminar. Teams of two educators-a university mathematics educator or policy-maker and a secondary teacher-from eight nations met to discuss major issues in mathematics education policy and practice. The seminar goals were to:

  • promote open discussion of issues affecting the mathematics education policies and practices of each nation,
  • identify common issues faced across national contexts,
  • identify common sources of direction and support for efforts to address problems, and
  • search for common solutions to related problems

The seminar, led by Joan Ferrini-Mundy, Michigan State University, and Gail Burrill, National Research Council, was organized to stimulate conversation and productive exchange of information that could serve as a basis for continued efforts to address issues in mathematics education.

Background

The eight nations represented in the seminar were Brazil, Egypt, France, India, Japan, Kenya, Sweden, and the United States. (See Appendix B for a list of participants.) The nature and impact of each nation's policies and practices were filtered through the experiences of the individual members of the two-person teams. This document is meant to be a "story" that describes an international conversation about issues in mathematics education. The team members whose views are expressed in this report were not functioning in any way as official representatives of their nations of origin. Thus, the views expressed by the members of these teams and the information contained in this report are not intended to reflect the status of mathematics education in each nation. Although there is some discussion of the national mathematics education context, each individual brought a unique perspective to the discussions. As such, issues of region, locality or other circumstances may have influenced individual views and opinions. It is not the intention of the PCMI, or this report, to claim that the views expressed are indicative of the national situation in each country.

The primary goal of the seminar was to consider issues and challenges that are similar for mathematics educators from very different contexts and to look across countries for common strategies and approaches. Researchers Deborah Loewenburg Ball and Hyman Bass from the University of Michigan in the U.S. began the seminar with a video of a third-grade class with children of many languages and cultures learning about odd and even numbers. Viewers were asked to consider what students might be learning, how students deal with mathematical ideas, and what a teacher might need to know to handle what was taking place.

During the discussion following the video, participants observed that the students seemed to have learned certain norms of behavior relating to mathematics and mathematical reasoning, such as the need to argue from a definition and their use of mathematical language. They noted that the teacher did not impose her view but allowed the situation to unfold and raised a question about how far she would attempt to take their understanding. Ball and Bass encouraged the participants to think about the video as a way to stay grounded in practice as the seminar discussion continued and to use the way the children were learning together as a model for the work of the seminar, asking for clarifications and definitions, creating norms for agreement and disagreement, and building on ideas and developing them further.

The seminar discussion was framed by seven questions, identified in advance by the organizers, covering a broad spectrum of issues related to both policy and practice in mathematics education.

  1. What is the relationship of national standards and national curriculum to teaching practice in classrooms in your country?
  2. What is the system of teacher education in your country and how does it relate to teaching practice?
  3. Case study inquiries: Describe the role of algebra in the middle and secondary mathematics curriculum in your country. How are ideas from probability and statistics currently configured in your system?
  4. How does your country handle the balance between tradition and reform in mathematics education? What do tradition and reform mean within your mathematics education system?
  5. How does your educational system decide the balance between depth and breadth (i.e. between insistence on in-depth knowledge of relatively fewer core topics vs. a broad inclusion of topics, with less emphasis on each)? How is this decision effected in practice?
  6. How does your country and culture deal with the challenges of excellence and accessibility in mathematics education? What is the balance of poser and input into the system between the various educational constituencies?
  7. What is the role of mathematics education as a profession and of mathematics education research in your country?

A team from one of the countries introduced each question (Table 1), followed by group discussion highlighting the similarities and differences noticed by those from other nations.

Table 1. Focus Questions

Issue Nation Participant
1. National Curriculum, Standards, & Teaching Practice France Antoine Bodin (University/Policy)
Catherine Sackur (Teaching)
2. Teacher Education Process & Teaching Practice Egypt Fayez Mina (University/Policy)
Khaled Farouk Etman (Teaching)
3. Algebra, Statistics & Probability in Math Curriculum Kenya George Eshiwani (University/Policy)
Beatrice Shikuku (Teaching)
4. Tradition & Reform in Math Education Japan Yoshihiko Hashimoto (University/Policy)
Miho Ueno (Teaching)
5. Depth & Breadth in the Mathematics Curriculum India Sudhakar Agarkar (University/Policy)
Shailesh Shirali (Teaching)
6. Excellence & Access in Math Education Sweden Gerd Brandell (University/Policy)
Susanne Gennow (Teaching)
7. Role of Math Education & Math Education Research Brazil Carlos Alberto Francisco (Teaching)
Romulo Lins (University/Policy)

Following the discussion of each topic, two observers, Hyman Bass from the United States and Hiroshi Fujita, Tokai University from Japan, reflected on the discussion from their individual perspectives. Throughout the forum, participants were able to revisit topics after the initial discussion by posting their thoughts, ideas, and questions on bulletin boards dedicated to each question. (See Appendix A for the agenda, Appendix B for information about the participants, and Appendix C for a list of background materials provided for the participants.)

Discussion Summaries

The summaries that comprise the remainder of this document contain the opening statements presented by the members of the team to whom the question was assigned, a table presenting the similarities and differences noted by the participants from each nation, a thematically arranged interpretation of the discussion content, and key questions that arose in the discussion. These summaries are intended to

  1. convey common assumptions, common language, and shared definitions that arose from the discussions,
  2. capture "insights" expressed by the participants,
  3. convey emerging themes that arose in the discussion of the issues, and
  4. provide a basis for continuing the conversations.

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