ICMI? CIEM? When we first met after our election by the General Assembly of the International Mathematical Union in 1982, it was the first question Geoffrey Howson, the new ICMI Secretary, asked me as the new President. Though I am very much in favour of the use of French as well as other languages in international relations, we decided to stick to the recent tradition, ICMI, and not to return to the old one, CIEM. This is why we still have to distinguish "ICMI with an I" and "ICME with an E".
Actually we had new projects for ICMI. I already discussed the idea of ICMI studies when I first met the former president if ICMI, Hassler Whitney, in Princeton in the spring of 1982. Hassler Whitney is one of the great mathematicians of the twentieth century and he had interesting and deep ideas on many subjects, including the way of teaching children elementary arithmetic. He had a charming personality and helped us constantly as past President. We had a very good and active Executive Committee, full of ideas and easy to chair, because everything was thought, planned and prepared by Geoffrey Howson. Geoffrey and I became close friends and we worked together during eight years. It is difficult for me to express my admiration for his humanity, the clarity of his mind, and the efficiency of his action . He knew everything and everybody. While I was a newcomer and in many aspects a layman. He spoke the most beautiful and understandable English that I can ever heard. The mere sound of his voice always made me, and still makes me, happy.
Our first meeting was at Orsay, at the end of 1982, with Bent Christiansen and Ed Jacobsen, who was then in charge of Mathematics in the Education Division of UNESCO. It was a long meeting, several hours, where I learned a lot and we planed the first ICMI Studies, beginning with "The influence of computers and informatics on mathematics and its teaching". The ICMI Executive Committee entered in action on the first of January, 1983, with already a heavy program: to contact all national delegates; to prepare ICMI's participation to the International Congress of Mathematicians, 1983, in Warsaw; to prepare ICME in Adelaide 1984; to take care of regional meetings, and of the site of the International Mathematical Olympiads (there was a crisis in 1983, and the situation was saved by Claude Deschamps in Paris); and, last but not least, to mount the four ICMI Studies we already had in mind.
I shall concentrate on the first Study. We elected a planning committee (Churhhouse, Cornu, Ershov, Howson, Kahane, van Lint, Pluvinage, Ralston, Yamaguti). Strasbourg was chosen as the site. The first draft of the discussion document was prepared by Bernard Cornu, François Pluvinage and myself. Then the planning committee met in Paris at the École Normale Supérieure, had a couscous party and set up the final discussion document, sent to all national delegates and printed in L'Enseignement Mathématique 30 (1984). The mere discussion of the discussion document was an exciting intellectual experience. What was provocative at the time was to emphasise the influence of computers and informatics on mathematics. What seemed rather obvious was that computers and calculators would have an influence on the teaching of mathematics - not only the way of teaching, but the matter and the motivation. I presented a report on that subject at the International Congress of Mathematicians in 1986 under the title was "Enseignement mathématique, ordinateurs et calculettes".
What is the situation in 2001? The fact that informatics contributes to mathematics as a science is now clear and obvious. But its influence on mathematics teaching seems a rather long and difficult process. New tools are used. But what about new subjects, new problems, new content? To take only one example, it is a mystery for me that continued fractions, so easy and interesting to consider and to explore with any pocket calculator, are not yet part of the culture of mathematics teachers. But there are signs of a long term influence of this first ICMI study in the present time.
Pages could be written on the later studies and on the fascinating people that I met in the course of my mandates as president of ICMI, in Japan, Australia, Europe, and many other places in the world. Happy recollection of the past, and good promise for the future. Good work, good luck, Hyman and Bernard ! Et vive l'ICMI !
Past ICMI President (1983-1990)
Mathématiques, Université de Paris-Sud
F-91405 Orsay Cédex FRANCE