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International Perspectives on Mathematics Curriculum

reviewed by Rachel Ayieko

coverTitle: International Perspectives on Mathematics Curriculum
Author(s): Denisse R. Thompson, Mary Ann Huntley, & Christine Suurtamm (Eds.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1641130431, Pages: 262, Year: 2017
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Denisse Thompson, Mary Ann Huntley, and Christine Suurtamm provide a broad overview of mathematics curricula in eight countries in their book, International Perspectives on Mathematics Curriculum. The book consists of ten chapters, including an introduction that lays out guiding questions. Each of the next eight chapters focuses on a particular country’s mathematics curriculum; countries covered include the Netherlands, France, Finland, Canada, the United States, South Africa, Brazil, and South Korea. The authors also provide a concluding chapter in which they state their views, include brief comparative analyses of the different perspectives on mathematics curriculum, and offer thoughts on further research prompted by the information presented in the chapters.

I explore four issues that emerged across these reports: (a) the movement towards 21st century skills, (b) who is involved in the curriculum development process, (c) challenges faced in the mathematics curriculum, and (d) the role of teachers in the curriculum-making process. These issues are essential to understanding how countries might work to improve outcomes in mathematics learning.


In each of the countries discussed in the book, curriculum changes emphasize 21st century skills, but to varying degrees and with differing emphases. In Canada, for example, the Common Curriculum Framework (CCF), developed through a multijurisdictional collaboration, emphasizes reasoning, problem-solving, and technology, and encourages students make connections across and within mathematics topics. Similarly, reform to the National Curriculum in South Korea emphasized problem-solving and reasoning, and encouraged mathematical argumentation, self-regulated learning, and a competency-based approach to teaching. The National Curriculum in France introduced changes that include inquiry-based mathematics and an emphasis on reasoning and proof. Finally, in the Netherlands, the Common Goals and Reference Frameworks as well as the Teaching and Learning Trajectories mention problem-solving, but the country’s textbooks offer minimal opportunities for problem-solving. In sum, the chapter authors indicate that while 21st century skills are emphasized across the world, the curriculum implementation, which is an essential dimension of the curriculum, might be different depending on the teaching context or teacher perceptions about good teaching.


Reports from the different countries indicate that in most cases, ministries of education control the national curriculum-making process. The ministries of education in Finland, Brazil, South Africa, France, and South Korea are in charge of appointing writing groups or task forces to investigate the current curriculum and introduce changes. In these countries, the groups that take charge of the curriculum-making process include mathematics educators, mathematicians, teacher educators, and professors. However, in the United States and the Netherlands, private organizations have taken the lead in developing curriculum. In the United States, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics introduced the mathematics standards in 1989. Later, the National Governors and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and Achieve, Inc., with funding support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and General Electric, released a report advocating for common state standards. Similarly, in the Netherlands, the Freudenthal Institute developed the teaching and learning trajectories to improve the teaching and learning of mathematics. Assessments, which are also part of the curriculum, have been made by commercial testing companies in the Netherlands and the United States. Similarly, in the United States, textbooks are developed by publishers, which in some cases collaborate with universities to produce instructional materials. It is evident from the book that in some cases, the curriculum-making process includes individuals who could have little knowledge of the social, cultural, and classroom context where mathematics learning takes place.


The different chapters each include sections that discuss the challenges faced by teachers who implement the curriculum and students who experience the changing curriculum. The challenges highlighted include lack of teacher capacity, incoherence across the multiple curriculum materials, rejection of new curriculum changes, contextual limitations, and cultural influences. Incoherence between intended curriculum and implemented curriculum was reported in Finland and the United States, and the culture and context of Korea, Brazil, and Canada were an impediment to the implementation of the suggested curriculum in those countries. For example, the Confucian culture in Korea and the language policy in South Africa were factors that influenced these countries’ curriculum implementation. In Brazil and Canada, the expansive geography made it difficult for the curriculum to be relevant or accessible to all. Finally, changes in the curriculum in the United States and Canada were met with public criticism. These challenges highlighted in the book allow readers to understand the reasons behind the failure of different countries to adopt a new curriculum.


It is discouraging to learn in reading this book that the role of teachers is often to implement a curriculum which they had little part in developing. However, the nations from this study with the highest PISA scores have their teachers playing significant roles in the curriculum development process. Chapter authors report that teachers in Finland, France, Korea, and Canada take part in the curriculum development process. That is, they are included in the working groups that develop textbooks, offer opinions about reform, and review selected textbooks that they then recommend to the local school districts. However, in Brazil and South Africa, the teacher’s role is to implement the curriculum that is provided to them without consideration of the teachers’ capacity to implement the suggested changes. In the chapter reporting on the U.S. curriculum, it is encouraging to read that teachers have a chance to share their instructional materials through online resources and national organizations. I argue that in some countries, the absence of teachers from the curriculum-making process could be part of what’s hindering the development of students’ problem-solving skills.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, 2018, p. -
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22515, Date Accessed: 10/19/2018 3:04:48 PM

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