Although the four countries face somewhat different challenges in preparing mathematics teachers, it is still possible to develop an agenda for international cooperation in the region.
One of the main challenges for Colombia is to apply the significant advances in research and graduate programs to actions in elementary and secondary classrooms, indicating the need for reforms in pre-service teacher education and in-service professional development, and as well in the objectives and curricular materials. Another challenge is to achieve alignment between the national curricular principles and the curriculum in each region.
descriptions of this experience can be found in Ruiz (2013, July) and in Mathematics Education Reform in Costa Rica 2015.
A challenge faced by Venezuela in initial teacher preparation is overcoming the deep divide that exists between mathematics and pedagogy. Other concerns are the lack of strong mathematics teaching methods courses and the need to find ways to link programs of study to classroom practices based on the national curriculum. The Venezuelan mathematics education community is designing strategies and solutions. They are the beneficiaries of a strong tradition of national public policies related to educational processes.
The Dominican Republic is confronting various challenges in improving the quality of teacher preparation: increasing the quantity of educators receiving master’s and doctoral degrees, improving the role of research, and in general strengthening mathematics education as a distinct discipline. Important changes have been made recently in school curriculum and modifications to the programs for initial preparation have been proposed that are based on a paradigm based on competencies. There is hope that the programs will become more specialized according to the school levels and disciplines in which the future teachers plan to work.
Besides the need to strengthen graduate program offering in mathematics education, Costa Rica has the challenge of improving teacher preparation programs in private universities. Recently there have been many graduates of private universities with a weak academic preparation. Also, both private and public universities need to adjust their programs so that they are consistent with the new national curriculum and offer high standards with respect to quality and expectations.
In all four countries there is some indication of the presence of specific mathematics pedagogy, but not consistently and better in some countries than in others. In all the countries improving the quality and impact of mathematics pedagogy on all pre-service teacher preparation programs is a challenge. The progress of the mathematics pedagogy seems to depend largely on the level of research in mathematics education and on decisions based on beliefs about mathematics or mathematics education, or even on institutional policies.
In all these countries the relationship between the programs of initial teacher preparation and the national curriculum is deficient even when there are specific courses on mathematics pedagogy.
There are other issues that are related to the educational system or society in general. These issues present challenges that combine with those “internal” to the discipline. For example, initial teacher preparation is affected if there are weaknesses in the requirements that ministries of education have in their teacher hiring practices. There can be similar negative effects if there are weak accreditation systems for teacher education programs and institutions. Also, the quality of teacher education programs can be negatively affected if students who enter those programs are mostly lower achieving students. When all these factors are combined it is inevitable that many of the in-service teachers will not have the qualities and attitudes necessary for adequate performance of their duties. Without a doubt, all these factors affect decisions taken by teacher education institutions, ministries of education and society in general. There is international experience that can help with policy decisions related to these issues (Barber and Mourshed 2007). Here we are faced with a very complex issue: How do we provide the required preparation in mathematics (something which is a right of every student) despite all the problems related to human resources? These issues cannot be separated from initial and continuing teacher education, and, although they will not be explicitly addressed in the following chapters, they do form part of the universe of mathematics education in these countries.
From a global perspective, these countries and others in the Caribbean Basin should identify national strengths in mathematics education that can guide processes of regional cooperation with reciprocal supports. For example, Colombia could contribute with respect to graduate programs, research and publications; Costa Rica with its results in research-based curriculum development; the Dominican Republic with it management capacities and international connections; and Venezuela with its experience with public policies.
It will be possible to make advances in mathematics education as a discipline, increase the number and the quality of mathematics teachers, improve initial teacher preparation programs, provide more master’s and doctoral programs, enhance the role of a pedagogy for teaching mathematics, and develop research. Nevertheless, as had been mentioned, there will always exist macro educational and social dimensions that will affect the impact of these necessary actions. It will be crucial to find helpful perspectives and necessary operational activities, and take advantage of the historical moment in the region and in each country. International efforts that will be realized with the support of the Mathematics Education Network for Central America and the Caribbean and the Inter-American Committee on Mathematics Education will be very important.