Mathematics education has a tradition as a research field in Sweden since at least the days of the great school researcher Frits Wigforss, who published a number of books in mathematics education starting in the twenties. His books were used in teacher education in Sweden for a long time. Other researchers followed him, but they were and still are relatively few. However, the situation is starting to change. The interest in mathematics education as a research field has been growing strongly during the last ten to fifteen years, and many students now desire to perform doctoral studies. But the area is not yet firmly established as a research field. Few universities offer PhD programs to students interested in doing research in mathematics education.
There is a lack of teachers in mathematics having research training both in upper-level secondary schools and in university departments for teacher education. In every upper-level secondary school, there ought to be teachers in all main areas with a research background. This is the official policy that has a long tradition, but the reality is very different in mathematics. Only very few teachers with a PhD in mathematics are teaching at this level today. The situation is similar among lecturers in mathematics and mathematics education in teacher training departments although not quite as bad.
It is against this background that the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation in April 2000 decided to fund a national graduate school in mathematics directed towards didactics of mathematics. The meaning of didactics is more general in Swedish than in some other contexts. Its meaning is best translated as 'teaching and learning of mathematics'. The aim of the Foundation is to develop mathematics education as a research area in Sweden and to provide teacher education in mathematics and upper-level secondary school with teachers having a solid research background. The graduate school will fund about fifteen PhD students during five years, which is the normal duration of a doctoral education. The funding will cover the cost of salaries for the doctoral students as well as give some support for supervisors and for developing courses given within the framework of the graduate school. The school will start in September 2001.
The graduate school is constructed as a network, and the nodes will be departments at several universities. The doctoral students will be enrolled at their faculty as regular PhD students. The aim of the graduate school is to strengthen the student group by giving them opportunity to meet and work together. During courses and seminars they will discuss, criticise each other's work and develop their academic skills and understanding of the research process in collaboration. Each course will be based at one of the departments and the co-operation will be supported by communication technology.
Several departments are now developing the structure and content of a PhD program in mathematics education. The PhD programs are developed by mathematicians and specialists in mathematics education in collaboration within mathematics or other departments.
The creation of the graduate school is obviously a great challenge to the mathematics education community in Sweden. The main problem is not recruiting good students. Recent announcements of positions as doctoral students as well as informal contacts indicate that the interest from students is high. The main problem is the lack of experienced and qualified supervisors in the area of mathematics education in our country. One way of backing the supervision and ensure quality is to turn to researchers from other countries. Internationally recognised researchers with extensive supervisory experience will be invited as guest professors to the graduate school for extended periods. They will share their knowledge and experience with the supervisors as well as take direct part in the supervision and in the courses.
The first step in supporting the Swedish supervisors has already been taken. In early December 2000, fifteen academics interested in supervising the graduate school students visited the Department of Educational Studies at the University of Oxford, OUDES, for five days. Professor Jaworski and her colleagues gave the Swedish participants intense and extremely interesting insight into how research training in mathematics education is done at OUDES. The experiences from OUDES will certainly be of great value when programs are formed and applications for the graduate school are prepared as well as later on when the students start their studies.
The graduate school is of strategic importance for the future. The current government policy is to encourage graduate schools as a framework for research education. Such schools are seen as being efficient. If the graduate school in mathematics education is successful it may later receive permanent funding from the government.
The board of the graduate school is appointed by the funding organisation and all its members are former or current members of the Swedish ICMI committee. Professor Wallin, Umeå University, chairs the board.
Gerd Brandell, ICMI National Representative
Graduate School Co-ordinator
Department of Mathematics, University of Luleå
S-97187 Luleå, Sweden