RME in brief
Realistic Mathematics Education, or RME, is the Dutch answer to the world-wide felt need to reform the teaching and learning of mathematics. The roots of the Dutch reform movement go back to the early seventies when the first ideas for RME were conceptualized. It was a reaction to both the American “New Math” movement that was likely to flood our country in those days, and to the then prevailing Dutch approach to mathematics education, which often is labeled as “mechanistic mathematics education.”
Since the early days of RME much development work connected to developmental research has been carried out. If anything is to be learned from the Dutch history of the reform of mathematics education, it is that such a reform takes time. This sounds like a superfluous statement, but it is not. Again and again, too optimistic thoughts are heard about educational innovations. The following statement indicates how we think about this: The development of RME is thirty years old now, and we still consider it as “work under construction.”
That we see it in this way, however, has not only to do with the fact that until now the struggle against the mechanistic approach to mathematics education has not been completely conquered— especially in classroom practice much work still has to be done in this respect. More determining for the continuing development of RME is its own character. It is inherent to RME, with its founding idea of mathematics as a human activity, that it can never be considered a fixed and finished theory of mathematics education.
“Progress” issues to be dealt with
This self-renewing feature of RME explains why it is work in progress. But, there are at least two more aspects. One significant characteristic of RME, is the focus on the growth of the students’ knowledge and understanding of mathematics. RME continually works toward the progress of students. In this process, models which originate from context situations and which function as bridges to higher levels of understanding play a key role. Finally, considering the TIMSS results, it seems that RME really can elicit progress in achievements.