Presidents Iyanaga, Kahane, and de Guzmán have given us vivid personal vignettes of their experiences with ICMI. Iyanaga reminds us of the influence of Bourbaki and the related "New Math" movement. Its flagship, the SMSG Project, was directed by Ed Begle, who was a member of the ICMI EC under the presidency of Iyanaga. Kahane recalls the birth of the now vibrant tradition of ICMI Studies, which he and Geoffrey Howson helped found, with UNESCO support. The initial Study was focused on the instructional implications of technology, a topic still very much alive today. De Guzmán highlights two philosophical and policy issues affecting ICMI - the relationship between mathematicians and mathematics educators, and the educational needs and concerns of developing countries, for which he inspired ICMI to establish the Solidarity Fund. I would like to expand somewhat on these evocations.
ICMI is a remarkable, and in some ways paradoxical organization. In contemplating its raison d'être, it seems to me that its "raison" is large, powerful, and growing, while its "être" is extraordinarily spare, fragile, and dependent. It serves, and is even helping define and give coherence to, a multidisciplinary international assemblage of professional communities, thus bridging across many intellectual, cultural, methodological, and political boundaries. These professional communities include mathematicians and scientists, educational researchers, related social scientists, curriculum developers, teachers and teacher educators, administrators and policy makers. They come from all parts of the world, from different cultures and educational traditions, from developed and developing countries. ICMI's raison d'être stems from the needs of mathematics education around the world for greater productive collaboration and synergy among these diverse communities. Apart from ICMI and PME there is now no substantial alternative organization or infrastructure that can realistically play such a role.
ICMI serves this need principally through the quadrennial ICME's and the ICMI Studies, launched roughly annually. It also leverages a broader influence by the sponsorship and good offices it offers to programs of other affiliated organizations. All of this is done with extremely modest material resources, but with very generous and high level voluntary intellectual leadership, and occasional institutional support. ICMI's existence is robust not because of its infrastructure or material endowment, but because of its driving purpose and community support.
But what is ICMI organizationally, and what is its material resource base, its "être?" ICMI is a sub-commission of IMU (the International Mathematical Union), which alone allocates ICMI's funds, and elects ICMI's leadership. ICMI has no individual members - only countries - so it has no membership base in the traditional sense. This Bulletin, for example, is mailed to representatives of the nation members, plus an ad hoc list of "friends" of ICMI, so its dissemination is quite thin and unsystematic. For a while, UNESCO provided important support and encouragement of ICMI activities, but that faded during UNESCO's lean years. From a material and administrative point of view, it is somewhat miraculous that ICMI remains as healthy and vibrant as it is.
This evolving and sometimes turbulent relationship of ICMI to IMU reflects the ambivalent relations between the professional communities that they represent - disciplinary mathematicians, and educational scholars and practitioners. It has produced occasional tensions, and these have prompted some educators to propose a separation. I am happy to say that such views have never commanded wide support. The work of mathematics education demands much more, and more enlightened, participation by mathematicians. ICMI provides one of the rare environments where mathematicians and mathematics educators are bound by both cultural and structural ties, and few of us would want to risk losing this precious legacy. At the same time, this relationship must evolve, and become more elastic and dignified in response to changing conditions and needs.
The ICMI Executive Committee is currently negotiating changes that would create more synergy and reciprocity between the two organizations. We are optimistic that improvements can soon be made.
The other big cultural divide witnessed in ICMI programs is the one, also noted by de Guzmán, between the advanced economies and the developing world. Of the many aspects of educational work, ICMI focuses largely on scholarly inquiry, and less so on the development and enactment of educational programs. The latter tend to have a more national than international character. Education, like health care, is a practice of human improvement, one that is needed in all countries. But educational (like medical) research is mainly concentrated in the more developed countries. The orientation of ICMI toward scholarship thus tends to consign the developing countries to a lesser role in ICMI programs, one reinforced by the lack of material resources with which to subsidize such participation. This problem is partly addressed by the funds generated to support travel to the ICME's, and by whatever aid the Solidarity Fund can bring. Meanwhile, this remains an ongoing, and still unresolved concern of ICMI.
Beyond the continuing organization of the ICME's and the ICMI Studies, ICMI is attempting to maintain and expand the networking and facilitating roles that it can play in support of the work of its national sub-commissions, and of other organizations concerned with mathematics education at the international level. Meanwhile, several important ICMI Studies are in various stages of progress - Algebra, the Comparative Study, Modeling and Applications, and Teacher Education. And the plans for ICME-10 promise a very exciting and well organized Congress in Copenhagen in 2004. ICMI's importance is growing, and its future seems promising.
Hyman Bass, President of ICMI
4204C School of Education, 610 E. University
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1259 USA