Teaching maths in primary school

The purpose of this report was to survey what is known about the relationship between mathematics teaching methodology and maths skills based on existing insights into the material and empirical facts.

Growing concern about Dutch children’s maths skills has led in recent years to a public debate about the way mathematics is taught in the Netherlands. There are two opposing camps: those who advocate teaching mathematics in the “traditional” manner, and those who support “realistic” mathematics teaching.

The Academy therefore decided – in part at the request of the Ministry of Education – to establish a special committee to investigate mathematics teaching methodologies and draw up a report on its findings. The committee has observed that there is no demonstrable relationship between the methodology used (realistic or traditional) and the maths skills of primary school children. It has, however, voiced its concern about pupils’ declining maths skills, and has asked the Ministry to investigate maths teaching at teacher training colleges and in-service training programmes.

The committee has also found that the available research on maths teaching is limited and inadequate in scope.

The committee that prepared this report was chaired by Prof. Jan Karel Lenstra, general manager of the Centrum Wiskunde&Informatica, the national research center for mathematics and computer science.

The report was completed in November 2009 and presented to the two state secretaries of the Dutch Ministry of Education. Both state secretaries indicated that they would be following the committee’s recommendations.

Activities and plans

In 2010, NWO established a new grant to support research into mathematics teaching in primary schools.