Summary Realistic Mathematics Education in the Netherlands 1980-1990 A.Treffers
1. Realism in Textbooks 1980-1990
A revolution in mathematics education that is what occurred in the Netherlands in the period 1980-1990. The distribution of realistic textbooks for mathematics in primary school from 1980 to 1990 went from 5% to a market share of no less than 75%. In short, the whole didactical approach changes in consequence: point of departure is more the informal context-bound working methods of children, by way of model situations, models, schemes, and symbols there is a gradual shift to a more formal approach, with more room for interaction and reflection.
2. Explanation for the shift
From 1984 on all of the representatives of the different sectors of the educational provider system efforts were combined to achieve an informal National Curriculum for the Netherlands. The consensus that was developed could lead to an agreement about the so called terminal goals for primary school and about a general didactical elaboration thereof in the ‘Specimen of a National Curriculum’- realistic didactics had been made legitimate and subsequently the realistic textbook series which had in fact laid the basis for that National Curriculum.
3. Realism with textbooks
Comparison of the two leading textbook series, each with a market share of more than 20% in 1987, shows that the realistic textbooks score significantly higher in various areas, such as in basic operations, the applications thereof and measurement, than the mechanistic textbooks. But more research is necessary for judging from the achievements.
4. Limits of innovation
A first example: Suppose that, given the revolution on the textbook market, one were to give parents and (for a part) teachers information – for instance by way of educational TV programs (Teleac), how could that be realized? Result: silence, no interest. A second example: an association for the development of mathematics instruction for primary school (NVORWO) would so much like to see a co-ordinated nation-all in-service training program. But a pedagogical institute (KPC) which was delegated as co-ordination of the experiment has no connections with the informal infrastructure in the subject area of mathematics. They proved to have no notion of what development entails. A third example: One closer to home. According to the draft of Act, it is not possible to finance developmental research (through the appropriate channels).
In the eighties it was notably by the Research Group on Mathematics Education (OW&OC) that emphasis shifted to the importance of elementary context problems, to the alignment of learning strands and the steering task of teachers-issues for which Freudenthal had less of an eye. This shift in emphasis in the didactical realism of the post IOWO period is among other expressed in the attention given to basic skills (arithmetic rack, empty number line, mental arithmetic and estimation). From the shift in emphasis one can get an idea of the direction of developmental research that the OW&OC followed and that the Freudenthal Institute will pursue, at least as far as mathematics instruction for primary school is concerned.