En torno a la solidaridad en educación matemática

Proceedings of the 7th International Congress on Mathemaical Education  Québec, 17-23 August 1992, pp.1-6.

Presidential Address
Allocution du Président

Miguel de Guzmán

Universidad Complutense, Madrid [ESP]

Monsieur le Maire de la ville de Québec,
Monsieur le Recteur de l’Université Laval
et autres dignitaires,
Chers collègues,
Mesdames, Messieurs,

En ma qualité de président de la Commission internationale de l’enseignement mathématique, au nom de son Comité exécutif et de son Assemblée générale, au nom de tous les participants à ce septième Congrés international sur l’enseignement des mathématiques et au nom de l’ensemble de la communauté mathématique – particulièrement de tous ceux qui sont engagés en éducation mathématique -, je désire exprimer mes remerciements les plus chaleureux au gouvernement du Canada, à ceux de la province et de la ville de Québec, ainsi qu’à l’Université Laval pour l’hospitalité qu’ils nous offrent et pour toute l’aide qu’ils ont apportée aux organisateurs de ce congrès.

A strong indication of the high esteem a country has of education, of mathematics, of mathematical education, and of culture in general is its eager disposition to cooperate to such an extent in the organization and funding of such a Congress, from which so many fruitful consequences are derived throughout the whole world concerning mathematical education. To the people of Canada and also to the different organizations in Canada and from other countries which have collaborated in and sponsored this magnificent event, our most hearty thanks and our warmest congratulations for their wonderful disposition towards culture and towards mathematics. I wish also to express our warmest thanks to those inside the organization of the Congress, the Canadian team as well as the international team, who have made this Congress possible through their constant dedication for several years. I would like to mention in particular the names of Professors Bernard Hodgson, Claude Gaulin, David Wheeler, and David Robitaille. To all of you who have participated in the preparation of this event, so important and full of consequences for the whole mathematical community around the world, and especially to all the members of the different committees, I would like to say in the name of all of us: Please, be sure that we appreciate very warmly all the efforts you have made on our behalf and on behalf of the whole mathematical community. We congratulate you on your evident success in the preparation of this Congress.

I wish also to express my thanks to all participants, to all of you who have come here to share your educational experiences in one way or another, through your lectures, talks, posters, and participation in the different activities. All of us are here with a common wish, that of serving the mathematical community concerned with education in the most effective possible way, working together towards a betterment of mathematical education in all countries in the world, with the deep persuasion that this work will greatly influence the progress of human culture.

This Congress is a manifestation of the increasing vitality of the ICMI, due very significantly to the efforts of Professors Jean-Pierre Kahane and Geoffrey Howson, who have enriched its activity in many directions in the last decade – to mention just one, through the very influential idea of the ICMI Studies, of which quite a few have already been completed, with some still in preparation.

The present world circumstances impel us to keep working in the directions in which ICMI has been so successfully acting up to now and also to try to give a stronger impetus to one action which in the mind of our Executive Committee should be at this moment a firm priority, that is: SOLIDARITY IN MATHEMATICAL EDUCATION.

The United Nations Program for Development issued a few months ago an impressive Report on Human Development. With an extraordinary wealth of information, and after several years of study by a very competent team, it examines carefully the present problems of the distribution of human and material resources in the world. According to the report, the last decade has been characterized by a drastic enlargement of the gap between rich countries and poor countries, between rich people and poor people in the world.

Two pieces of information are quite conclusive:

• At this moment one can say that a fifth of the world population (the rich people) owns more than 80 per cent of the total material resources, while another fifth of the population (the poor people) owns less than 1.5 per cent of those resources.

• This situation of imbalance has been rapidly deteriorating in recent decades, and especially during the 1980s. In 1960, the richest fifth of the world population was 30 times richer than the poorest fifth. In 1980 it was 45 times richer, and in 1989 it was 60 times richer.

This could also be expressed in the following way: There was a family of five brothers. Everywhere it was proclaimed that they were equal in rights. But one of the brothers had made himself the owner of almost everything (80%) the family owned. And another brother had almost nothing (1.5%). Some time ago the rich brother was 30 times as rich as his poor brother. But now he is 60 times as rich… THIS IS OUR WORLD. THIS IS OUR INHUMAN DEVELOPMENT.

Of course, human development, educational and cultural opportunities, social structures, and so on are in a great measure conditioned by the economic situation, and so the disparity between poor people and rich people in these aspects is at least as great as the economic figures show.

From this rapidly deteriorating situation in the distribution of material and human resources in the world, we can infer several conclusions:

• The actions and the efforts performed by global institutions in the last decade have been intense and well applied in many cases, but clearly they have been totally insufficient.

• We need to think of imaginative new ‘ways to try to improve this situation, which is becoming unbearably unjust. Otherwise, global conditions will become still worse than they are at this moment.

• We cannot rely only on what global organizations are trying to do. We cannot silence our consciences with the excuse that there are already organizations in charge of trying to remedy the injustice of this situation. WE NEED TO FOSTER IN US AND AROUND US A PERSONAL COMMITMENT. WE NEED TO TAKE AN ACTIVE AND PERSONAL PART TO IMPROVE THIS SITUATION. WHAT CAN WE DO?

Ours, of course, is an educational task. And this task is based on two fundamental pillars: human resources and material resources. Our personal involvement can take very many different forms:

We can actively look for places in our own environment where our personal cooperation in education might be very much welcomed and needed. There is a South in every North. There are many underdeveloped groups of people inside every country. Perhaps for too long we have been looking just for places where we could find some profit for our own development. The time might already have come to look for places where we could offer something of ourselves.

• For some of us the barriers of language with many of the countries in need of development in mathematical education do not exist. We may offer some of our time to cooperate with them. Perhaps we should take the initiative, not waiting to be called or asked or invited, but looking ourselves for places to go and for funds to finance our work in those countries – not imposing upon them our way of looking at their problems, but asking the people there, with an open disposition, where, when, and in what ways we could be of any help.

• Many of us who live and work in those countries with better economic conditions could and should personally offer some of our material resources in order to help others achieve better development in mathematical education.

ICMI COULD HELP, ICMI SHOULD HELP, TO ARTICULATE THIS PERSONAL COMMITMENT. I am sure that there will be many people in many countries who would like to find concrete ways to act. ICMI, working together with the Committee on Exchange and Development of the International Mathematical Union, could establish a panel to channel the offers and to receive the requests for help. All of you who would like to contribute with your ideas and with your personal time and effort to this solidarity programme are invited to get in contact with any of the members of the ICMI Executive Committee. To all the persons who can think of effective ways to contribute to the betterment of the educational conditions in mathematics in particular regions or concrete groups of people in the world, I would like to ask: Please share your ideas with us.

Regarding the material resources needed for getting ahead with this SOLIDARITY PROGRAM, some of us in the Executive Committee have been working towards the initiation of what we have called a SOLIDARITY FUND FOR EDUCATION IN MATHEMATICS and have tried to start collecting some funds from personal friends around us who have agreed to start collaborating with ICMI in this form. It is a pleasure to express our thanks to the persons from different countries who have generously contributed to this SOLIDARITY FUND, which has started with an amount of US$20 000. I have no doubt that many of you will wish to collaborate personally to increase this amount through your own contributions or through your active participation to obtain funds from different sources, personal or institutional. This SOLIDARITY FUND will be administered for the moment by the Treasurer and Secretary of ICMI, Professor Mogens Niss. All of you who wish to contribute to this SOLIDARITY FUND are invited to send their contributions to his address.

There are many other ways in which we can contribute. For example, perhaps many people coming here have thought that the registration fees of US$300 we all have paid for this Congress was far from being inexpensive. If many of you, who come from rather affluent countries, are inclined to think that this is expensive, imagine what may think many professors and teachers of mathematics from many countries where their monthly salary is below that amount. If you keep this situation in your mind, I am sure that many of you would agree to pay together with your own registration a portion of the registration fees of one less affluent person whose attendance at the Congress could be made possible in this way. Maybe we should introduce this not just as an option, but as a very reasonable and just solidarity tax. Achieving solidarity is not a matter of charity. ACHIEVING SOLIDARITY IS A MATTER OF JUSTICE.

For this Congress there has been a Grants Committee for helping participants coming from countries where the economic conditions are not good at all. About 90 participants have received some kind of support in order to attend it, all continents being represented. This has been possible thanks to the efforts of the Canadian International Development Agency, with funds coming also from UNESCO, the ICME-7 Organization, IMU, and ICMI. Altogether, 75000 Canadian dollars have been distributed. I would like to express our most hearty thanks to all these sponsors and also to those in charge of the Grants Committee for the delicate and intense work they have done.

Yet we should try to reach still more ambitious goals. Perhaps, with the personal contributions we are suggesting, we shall be able in the future to have several hundreds of participants from many more countries who are in urgent need – much more than most of us – of opportunities for development and exchange like the ones this Congress is going to offer.

The Executive Committee of ICMI would like to submit the preceding idea to our Spanish colleagues who will be in charge of organizing the next International Congress, ICME-8, in Seville, in order to explore its feasibility. For that, we still have time.

We could also proceed in a similar way with the Proceedings of this Congress and with many other publications related to ICMI. Persons in a sufficiently good economic situation could very willingly pay a little more in order that the publications they find useful can reach persons, places, and centers in less affluent countries at a drastically reduced price. Otherwise, perhaps people in these countries will be totally unable to buy them. We should introduce a new style of life, a spirit of austerity – austerity not just for itself, but for sharing. Perhaps a new slogan would make sense: TAKE ONE, PAY TWO!

Of course, this SOLIDARITY PROGRAM and SOLIDARITY FUND, which are intended to be based primarily and above all on PERSONAL COMMITMENTS AND PERSONAL CONTRIBUTIONS of all people around the world, will have to be given some structure if it is going to be efficient. It will have to try by all means to take good care that personal resources and material resources go in fact to the places where they are really needed and most effective, exploring with diligence what are in each case the right ways to achieve this goal. As many of you know, this is not an easy task, since in some cases resources come with strings and restrictions, and in some others they are channeled through organizations whose honesty, impartiality, and integrity one can rightfully doubt.

This SOLIDARITY spirit is in complete agreement with the goals of the program proposed by the International Mathematical Union which has declared the year 2000 to be the WORLD MATHEMATICAL YEAR 2000.

As you may know, on the sixth of May 1992, IMU, together with UNESCO and other institutions, decided to declare the year 2000 the World Mathematical Year 2000. In the second objective of its programme, it decided to proclaim mathematics as one of the central keys for understanding the world and for the progress of our human culture. ICMI, our International Commission on Mathematical Education, together with the Commission on Development and Exchange of IMU, was charged with the task of fostering an adequate development of mathematical education in all countries of the world. One can be sure that such a development is going to become impossible unless we take some innovative and drastic measures, which include a personal commitment like the one our Executive Committee has agreed to promote within the entire mathematical community.

If this Seventh International Congress serves to launch such a solidarity spirit, first of all among its participants and through them in their particular communities, it will have done a great service to mathematical development in our world. Let us look forward to it.

To conclude:

Je déclare ouvert ce septième Congrès international sur 1’enseignement des mathématiques.

I declare open this Seventh International Congress on Mathematical Education.

Queda inaugurado este Séptimo Congreso Internacional de Educación Matemática.