The International Commission on Mathematical Instruction (ICMI) decided in 2000 to create two prizes recognizing outstanding achievement in mathematics education research:
- The Felix Klein Award, named after the first president of ICMI (1908-1920), honours a lifetime achievement.
- The Hans Freudenthal Award, named after the eighth president of ICMI (1967-1970), recognizes a major cumulative program of research.
In order to reflect the ICMI principles to “development of mathematical education at all levels” and “to promote the reflection, collaboration, exchange and dissemination of ideas on the teaching and learning of mathematics, from primary to university level" the ICMI EC decided in 2013 to create a third ICMI award to recognize outstanding achievements in the practice of mathematics education.
- The Emma Castelnuovo Award, named after the Italian mathematics educator born in 1913 to celebrate her 100th birthday and honour her pioneering work, to recognize outstanding achievements in the practice of mathematics education.
These three awards pay tribute to outstanding scholarship in mathematics education. They serve not only to encourage the efforts of others, but also to contribute to the development of high standards for the field through the public recognition of exemplars. The awards consist of a medal and a certificate, accompanied by a citation. They have a character similar to that of a university honorary degree.
The Felix Klein Award and the Hans Freudenthal are given in each of the odd numbered year (since 2003). The Emma Castelnuovo Award is given at the year an ICME is held (since 2016).
At each International Congress on Mathematical Education (ICME), the medals and certificates of the awards are presented at the Opening Ceremony. Furthermore, the awardees are invited to present special lectures (ICMI Award Lectures) at the Congress.