Journal of Educational Change

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 251–280 | Cite as

Mathematics, PISA, and culture: An unpredictable relationship

  • Paul Andrews


Recent studies have indicated, particularly in the European context, that students’ mathematical successes on international tests of student achievement may not be attributable to the quality of classroom instruction, although, as is shown, this is unlikely to be the case in Flanders, the autonomous Dutch-speaking region of Belgium. Flemish students’ mathematics performance on such tests have placed them at the head of the European rankings, warranting Flanders as a site of research interest that has been largely ignored by the international community. In this paper, drawing on analyses of four sequences of five lessons, taught by teachers construed locally as competent, I explore the nature of Flemish mathematics teaching. Framed by anecdotal reports that it reflects the structuralism of the now largely abandoned Bourbakian new mathematics movement humanised by the Dutch tradition of realistic mathematics education, the analyses focus on examining not only the extent to which these traditions are manifested in Flemish classrooms but the ways in which they interact. The dominant tradition seems to be that of mathematical structuralism mediated by teachers’ use of realistic problems; a tradition not unlikely to underpin Flemish students’ repeated successes. The results are discussed in relation to research highlighting the significance on students’ achievement of the broader cultural milieu in which they and their teachers operate.


Bourbaki Finland Flanders Mathematics instruction PISA Realistic mathematics education TIMSS 



International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement


Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development


Progress in International Reading Literacy Study


Programme of International Student Assessment


Realistic mathematics education


Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Mathematics and Science EducationStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden

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