Editorial - Southeast Asia and Mathematics

Mitsuo Morimoto 


In January 1997 a Workshop on Analysis was held in Suranaree University of Technology, Thailand. Professor Huzihiro Araki was the Japanese organizer and chose eight fields of analysis: operator algebras, function algebras, harmonic analysis, wavelets, hyperfunctions, Wiener functional integrals, solvable lattice models, and non-commutative differential geometry. I was invited to give an introductory lecture on hyperfunctions.

As newspapers have reported, the spectacular success of Thai economy can be felt during a short drive between the airport and the city center of Bangkok. Applied Science has been developing satisfactorily in Thailand. However, the growth of theoretical science has lagged behind and Thailand is not doing much in mainstream theoretical sciences, especially in mathematics.

At this stage in the progress of the country, Thailand felt a need to promote pure mathematics. With this in mind, Professor Sidney Mitchel, an American professor working at Chulalokorn University, organized the workshop.



In the late nineteen seventies, the number of people with Ph. D.'s in mathematics in the Philippines could be counted on the fingers of one hand. There was, however, an active mathematical society, the Mathematical Society of the Philippines (MSP), whose membership consisted mostly of teachers of college-level mathematics.

The leadership of MSP had a vision of creating a critical mass of researchers in mathematics in the country. They saw this as the first step towards establishing a stable and vital mathematics community.

At the time, quite a number of Filipinos were enrolled in Ph. D. programs in mathematics abroad, particularly in the U.S.A., but the rate of return to the Philippines of these scholars was minimal. They were easily absorbed by educational and research institutions there, so it was not feasible just to wait for returning Ph. D.'s to form the critical mass.

There was need for an intervention that would keep mathematicians working in the country. The resources of the three leading universities in the country, namely, Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University and the University of the Philippines could be tapped to form a Consortium in the Mathematical Sciences able to offer a local Ph. D. program in mathematics.

The dearth of Ph. D.'s posed a problem when it came to thesis advising. The theses were, of course, to be of international standard. The solution to the problem was the creation of the sandwich program.

The sandwich program concept, as implemented in the Consortium, consists of three stages :

  • Ph. D. students take the academic courses in any of the three universities.

  • Students go to a university abroad to start thesis research with a foreign adviser.

  • Students return home to complete the thesis with a local adviser.

The study done abroad is sandwiched between studies done at home, whence the name.

Initially, the links with the Southeast Asian Mathematical Society (SEAMS) and the grants from the German government (DAAD), the Australian government (IDP) ant the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) enabled scholars to spend time abroad with foreign thesis advisers, and, at times, allowed advisers to make a reciprocal visit to the scholars. Subsequently the growing exchanges between local universities and universities in the region provided similar opportunities.

In its twenty-year existence the program has produced 45 scholars. Of these 31 were in the sandwich program. One of the successes of the program is the global perspective gained by its graduates from their exposure to a foreign work environment and culture. Graduates have become part of a global (or at least regional) network of researchers in their research area and their interaction with members of these networks has led to research that is published in international journals.



Among Southeast Asian countries Vietnam has a relatively strong mathematical community. The Hanoi Institute of Mathematics is a center of excellence for mathematical research, although facilities like the mathematical library are in poor condition because of economic difficulties.

Vietnam has been a target country for the Commission on Development and Exchange (CDE) of IMU. The CDE supported the research team of Le Van Thanh (Hanoi) for 1992 - 1995 and a project closely related to this research group in 1996. In March 1997, the CDE supported the "Colloque Franco-Vietnamien" held in Ho Chi Minh City, in cooperation with CIMPA/ICPAM. Several young mathematicians from the Philippines and China were invited to this colloquium in a spirit of regional cooperation.



Historically and geographically Japan is closely related to Southeast Asia. Japan is a relatively advanced country in mathematics education and research. Although she already had her own indigenous mathematics, modern mathematics was introduced to Japan from western countries and has been one of the most important disciplines in the creation and development of her industry and economy. Japan has been trying hard to design a good national curriculum of mathematics for elementary and secondary schools. As a basis of industry, it is still vital for Japan, as it is for any other country, to improve the quality of mathematics education and to promote mathematics research nationwide.

In World Mathematical Year 2000 Japan will host the Ninth International Congress on Mathematical Education (ICME - 9), the first ICME to be held in East Asia. There have been many international meetings on mathematics education and mathematics research, which have been useful for regional cooperation among mathematicians. ICME - 9 will be a much more meaningful occasion to advance international understanding and mutual assistance in the world, especially in East and Southeast Asia.

 In writing this article, I owe much to Southeast Asian mathematicians, especially to Professor Mari-Jo Ruiz of Ateneo de Manila University. I would like to thank them.


Expert Meeting "UNESCO and Mathematics"

UNESCO Venice Office

November 22-24, 1996


From 22 to 24 November 1996 an Expert Meeting on "UNESCO and Mathematics" was held at the UNESCO Venice Office.

Outstanding mathematicians from various parts of the world, as well as representatives of several important international organizations, like AMU, IMU, ICMS, ICPAM, ICTP and UNESCO, participated in this meeting.

The meeting dealt with the important role of Mathematics in modern society, through its relationship with the other scientific disciplines.

Emphasis was laid on UNESCO's role in the development of Mathematics, in particular in developing countries, through fruitful collaboration with the other organizations mentioned above. Past and present mathematical activities, including the prospects of further development within UNESCO's "Basic Sciences" Program, were also evaluated.

At the conclusion of the Expert Meeting the following recommendations were made for future action :

  • General recommendations and the role of UNESCO

    • It is proposed that UNESCO strongly support the establishment and consolidation of regional networks in Mathematics .

    • The relationship between UNESCO and International Centres dealing with Mathematics should be reinforced, including financially.

    • Efforts should be made by UNESCO to ensure that mathematicians from developing countries have access to electronic data bases and the other modern means of communication that are so important in industrial and technological development.

    • UNESCO should support the establishment of a Clearing House to compile, test, analyse, evaluate, promote and disseminate newly developed educational and informative technologies in Mathematics education.

    • A special fund should be set up to foster specific activities geared towards fulfilling the objectives of World Mathematical Year 2000.

    • The usefulness of mathematical models for the solution of problems of social relevance must be made known to the widest general audience and UNESCO also has a role to play here.

    • UNESCO should encourage funding agencies in Member States to support Mathematics and study the possibility of launching a Foundation for Mathematics and Development .

    • Finally it was strongly recommended that a UNESCO Advisory Committee for Mathematics and Computer Sciences modelled on already existing ones should be set up.

  • Specific recommendations proposed by the participants in the meeting

    • to encourage the participation of expatriates in the development of Mathematics in their mother countries ;

    • to strengthen links and cooperation between UNESCO and existing industrialized centres dealing with Mathematics ;

    • to strengthen the collaboration between UNESCO and Venetian scientific institutions in carrying out projects.


The following draft resolution has been submitted to UNESCO's General Conference (November, 4-7, 1997)
submitted by Luxembourg, Ivory Coast, France and Netherlands
supported by Russian Federation, Brazil, Benin, Spain, Belgium, Uzbekistan, Philippines, Thailand, Denmark, Ireland, Colombia......

The General Conference.

Considering the central importance of mathematics and its applications in today's world with regard to science, technology, communications, economics and numerous other fields,

Aware that mathematics has deep roots in many cultures and that the most outstanding thinkers over several thousand years contributed significantly to their development,

Aware that the language and the values of mathematics are universal, thus encouraging and making it ideally suited for international cooperation,

Stressing the key role of mathematics education, in particular at primary and secondary school level, both for the understanding of basic mathematical concepts and for the development of rational thinking,

Welcomes the initiative of the International Mathematical Union (IMU) to declare the year 2000 the World Mathematical Year and carry out, within this framework, activities to promote mathematics at all levels world-wide,

Decides to support the World Mathematical Year 2000 initiative,

Requests the Director General to collaborate with the international mathematics community in planning the World Mathematical Year 2000 and to contribute during 1998-1999 funds of $250.000 from the Regular Programme and Budget in support of preparatory activities.


Siegbert Raither

Division of Basic Sciences 
1, rue Miollis 
75015 PARIS (France) 
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Letter to the Editor

regarding the Editorial by Attia A. Ashour on "International Organizations and Mathematics in the Developing Countries", this Newsletter 4, Autumn 1996

The Editorial starts out by complaining that only "certain aspects of mathematics or related to it, such as Computer Science, Information Theory, Statistics & Probability, Modelling, etc., have been established as worthy of support" by the governments of developing countries or the international organizations whose aim it is to help these countries, whereas mathematics as such has not. It then mentions some organizations which nevertheless do help mathematics there and claims that UNESCO is the main, if not the only, sponsor of the international organizations involved in this.

I disagree. The first statement seems to reflect a resentment felt by mathematicians working in some areas of mathematics against those concerned with other aspects, not unlike the grudge found frequently among pure mathematicians against applied ones (the author of the Editorial is himself an applied mathematician). It is not borne out by a broader, deeper and more differentiated analysis. A sample study of curricula and research programmes in developing countries reveals all too often a tendency towards building up in the first place fairly abstract mathematics and neglecting applied areas including some of those from the author's list above, e.g. statistics. This field finds indeed little support in spite of its profound mathematical content and the fact that it is one of the most needed mathematical domains. It is, by the way, precisely not pursued in the Department of Mathematics of the International Centre of Theoretical Physics mentioned by Ashour. Also, when I listened last year in Trieste to the lecture of the Deputy Director-General of UNESCO at the General Meeting of the Third World Academy of Sciences, it dawned on me that UNESCO could profit a lot from acquiring some more statistical methodology.

I do certainly not advocate reducing the support of pure mathematics, quite on the contrary (my own background stems from there), but instead of playing off some parts of mathematics against others we should try to further a harmonious and coordinated growth of all of them in developing countries. The problem is by no means restricted to mathematics : it is just one aspect of the strong dissociation of theory from practice observed on the scientific scene in many of these countries.

Regarding the international organizations mentioned in the Editorial, they are the larger ones with a strong "official" background. Their work has been extremely useful, UNESCO has invested its funds wisely by supporting them, and I hope that these activities will even grow in the future. I maintain, however, that, taken together, the work of smaller organizations of all kinds which had no support from United Nations bodies, and of dedicated individuals, has been more influential. Here we find governmental or semi-governmental institutions like Academic Exchange Offices and private foundations which then become de facto international organizations ; international learned societies like, in my field, the Biometric Society or the Bernoulli Society ; Third World minded groups in university departments of mathematics and governmental ministries of education, research or cooperation ; and individual mathematicians in developed countries who work with those of developing ones in their own institution or in those of their opposite numbers. Their funding comes from many sources and, added up, it is certainly far higher than what UNESCO can provide.


A. ASHOUR's Response

"My editorial, as its title indicates, is meant for, and only for, information (much needed) about the international agencies which provide funds and help for mathematics and mathematicians in the developing countries. I confined the article to facts and expressed no opinions of my own. I am therefore rather surprised by the reactions of Prof Krickeberg, who obviously misunderstood the editorial and its purpose.

Attia Ashour

N.B. There is a typing mistake in the first line of the editorial. The word 'enjoys' should read 'does not enjoy'."


"The ICMI WMY 2000 committee"

The Executive Committee of the International Commission on Mathematical Instruction (ICMI) has appointed an ad hoc committee to take the lead, on behalf of the Executive Committee, in planning and preparing ICMI's contributions to WMY 2000. The ICMI WMY 2000 Committee is meant to be both a 'think tank', to generate and propose ideas for WMY 2000 activities prior to and in 2000, and a 'task force' in charge of planning, and partly carrying out, the ICMI WMY 2000 programme. The Committee is chaired by ICMI's President, Professor Miguel de Guzman, Madrid (Spain). The Committee has the following members :

Professor Miguel de Guzman, Chair
Facultad de Ciencias Mathematicas, 
Universidad Complutense
28040 Madrid
fax : +34 1 6301699
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Professor Bernard Hodgson
Universite Laval, Quebec, QC

Professor Hikosaboru Komatsu
Tokyo Science University, Tokyo,

Professor Lee, Peng Yee
National Institute of Education, 

Professor Eduard Luna, 
Barry University, Miami Shores, Florida

Professor Michael Neubrand
Flensburg Pedagogical University, Flensburg

Professor Kaye Stacey
University of Melbourne, Parkville, VIC

French Committee for Mathematical year 2000

A French Committee for Mathematical Year 2000 (CFAM 2000) has been created. Its purpose is to coordinate and help initiate activities connected to WMY 2000 in France and to participate in international projects. The committee plans to work in an informal way. A number of projects are already planned or under consideration.

The CFAM 2000 includes representatives of both French mathematical societies (SMF and SMAI), of "Femmes et Mathématiques" and mathematics teachers' organizations (APMEP and UPS), as well as individuals.

The present members of the committee are : Martin Andler (chair), André Bellaïche, Jean Brette, Mireille Chaleyat-Maurel, Michel Enock, Catherine Goldstein, Jean-Pierre Kahane, Jean-Michel Kantor, Jean-Marie Schwartz, Gérard Tronel, Liliane Zweig.

The committee's address is :

c/o Martin Andler, 
SMF, Institut Henri-Poincaré, 
11 rue Pierre-et-Marie-Curie, 75231 Paris Cedex 05. 
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Mission pour la célébration de l'an 2000

(Mision for the celebration of year 2000)

The "Year 2000" appeals strongly to the imagination : to celebrate its advent the French government has launched a program

"Célébration pour l'an 2000".

This program is in two parts :

  1. April 6, 1997 to December 31, 1999. During this period of 1000 days meetings will be organized around the country in preparation of the Year 2000.

  2. September 1999 - April 2001 - La France, l'Europe, le Monde. Meetings and exhibitions will take place on these general thema in different towns.

Information can be obtained from : Project@celebration 2000. gouv.fr

(Conseil Québécois de l'Enseignement des Mathématiques)


The following events are planned in Quebec for the year 2000 :

  • A unified Congress of all mathematical groups and associations of Quebec (Spring 2000). An exhibition of mathematical projects made by pupils of all levels will be organized for the general public.

  • A mathematical exhibition will be held in Montreal.

  • The French exhibitions "Horizons mathématiques" and "L'esprit informatique" will circulate in the large towns of Quebec.

Contact : Richard Pallascio
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The Canadian Mathematical Society has established a WMY 2000 Committee chaired by Bernard Hodgson to identify some ways of participating in the Mathematical Year 2000.

Contact : Bernard Hodgson
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The latest information on what AMS is doing for year 2000 is carried on the web page

http://ams.org/amsmtgs/wmy 2000.html



This Committee has been set up to coordinate plans for WMY 2000 with UNESCO. The following have agreed to serve on the committee : A. Ashour (Egypt), M. Chaleyat-Maurel , chair (France), M.S. Narashincan (India), M. Niss (Denmark), R. Rebolledo (Chile), A. Sierpinska (Canada) and G. Tronel (France).