Andrejs Dunkels

PhD (Mathematics) DipEd(Hon)

Luleå, Sweden


Andrejs eating Peking Duck, ISI, Beijing, 1995

The best part of being involved with an International Organisation such as the IASE is the opportunity of meeting wonderful people from around the world. I am sure that many will agree with me, that Andrejs Dunkels was on the top of the list of people we have been privileged to meet, listen to, work with, discuss ideas and have fun with. I well remember a bus trip taking us from a round table meeting and headed for ICME-6 with Andrejs sitting up the front humorously assuming the role of a tour guide as we rolled down the hills into Budapest, it was a magic moment. This typified Andrejs love for life and people.

Andrejs was born in Riga, Latvia, in 1939 where his father was a judge with a love of music. With his family, he escaped to Sweden in 1944, but was unable to return to Latvia for many years because of the Russian occupation. As a child his dream was to be a teacher of English because his idol was his English teacher whom he described as Uno Sondelius. From 1959 he studied Mathematics and Physics at Uppsala University then worked as a teacher and university lecturer. While working he continued his studies and obtained an MSc(Ed) in 1965. From 1966 to 1968 he established the Mathematics Department at the Kenya Science Teachers College in Nairobi, a Swedish Government foreign aid project, which trained teachers for lower secondary school. Here he started writing mathematics textbooks and working on projects to train teachers. He also utilised one of his passions, his love of languages, since he taught Swahili to newcomers to Kenya from Sweden. On returning to Sweden in 1969 he took up a position in the Mathematics Department at the Umeä University. Along with his teaching and further studies in mathematics (obtaining a Licentiate in 1972, equivalent to a US PhD) he continued teaching Swahili and studied Linguistics. His language repertoire included English, Swedish, Latvian, Swahili plus some German and French . He also continued his education studies gaining a Diploma of Education (Honors) in 1973. From that time on he worked at Luleå University, Sweden where he spent half his time teaching engineering students, the other half teaching student teachers, specialising in mathematics for grades 1-7. He was equally at home teaching university students, or working with young children in primary school and described his methods as small peer group teaching using an exploratory style. In 1986 he was awarded Teacher of the Year at his University. Over a period of more than 20 years from the mid 1970's, Andrejs delighted conference delegates round the world with many invited conference papers in mathematics and statistics education, wrote many articles and was author and co-author of numerous text books especially for primary school children. He was also the illustrator and translator for a number of texts and was heavily involved with many associations and publications in a number of countries with wide ranging interests including "Mathematics in a Multi-cultural Society" and "Women in Mathematics". He also loved music and was a choir singer.

Andrejs started to have health problems in 1975 but it took almost 20 years for it to be established he had an illness called Multiple Autoimmunal Endocrinopathy which caused his immune system to try to reject its own glands. He became increasingly sick in the early 1990's and undertook various treatments. When he was well enough to write letters again in 1993/4 he talked about relaxing with his family at his summer cottage, the place he loved so much. While writing these letters he said how great it was to be back to life again and how he had come to the conclusion that " communication is the purpose of life really " - Anyone who was lucky enough to hear him speak would know what a great communicator he was. This was epitomised in his wonderful statistics cartoons he called "Footies" which often appeared in his articles, and talks and will be especially remembered by those who attended some of the early ICOTS meetings.


Some other Footies:

One says to the other: "Pleasant folk, those statisticians!" The other says, "Yes, even the mean statistician is quite nice."

One says to the other: "1.8 children per family! How can that be?" The other says, "Statistics, my friends, statistics" Another "Seems to promote split personalities"

One says to the other: "What do statisticians spend their money on?" The other says, "They dont spend it, they throw it up in the air."


A number of his friends were fortunate enough to be able to visit Andrejs and Kerstin in Luleä, and visit his beloved countryside in the Arctic Circle where he would point out the mountains which he featured in the Footies.

At one stage after he had been sick for a while and assignments had piled up he wrote: "I have gone through the lot and returned it to each student. I like that kind of work, for never does one get a better view of what and how students have understood a topic than when they write about it with their own words and present their solutions to problems." This says a lot about Andrejs' feelings for his students. He sometimes showed disappointment about what happens in the world. "Why can people not be friends? There are so many wonderful words to be said, there are so many wonderful songs to be sung. Why do some people have to cause trouble? Nobody actually wants it."

Despite his health problems he completed his PhD titled 'Contributions to mathematical knowledge and its acquisition' in 1996, was able to attend ISI in Beijing in 1995 and later do a international study tour. He had planned on going to ICOTS-5, but had to pull out near the end. He was a sporty person, loved jogging, skiing, and hiking. Wherever he was, Budapest, Beijing, Melbourne or Luleä, he would be out jogging by 5 am each morning despite the weather.

At the start of this year we were devastated to hear that Andrejs died of a heart attack on the 30 December, 1998. As Mogens Niss told us "he had been ill for quite a while, but during the last couple of months his condition improved considerably and people began to be optimistic again about the prospects for his recovery. As late as the 29 th he spoke to a friend on the phone about possible new projects of collaboration, so his death came most unexpectedly."

Many of his friends have the warmest memories of Andrejs. Some of the comments I received are included below to help give further insight into this wonderful human-being.

With his wife Kerstin Vännman he formed a wonderful partnership. They both showed a passion for the teaching of statistics and Kerstin was one of the leading forces in establishing the IASE. His son Adam has inherited some of his father's wonderful talents, including mathematics, music and art. Andrejs is also survived by daughters Anna, Ulrika, Elza, sisters Lou, Astrida, Ieva, all who have their own families, stepmother Irena and mother-in-law Elsa. Our thoughts and sympathies go out to Kerstin and his family.

Andrejs lived a wonderful life and had a great influence on all who knew him. He was a most warm and caring person who made anyone in his company feel special. He will be remembered for his enthusiasm for living and particularly his gift for teaching mathematics and statistics. Whoever met him or heard him talk came away more enthusiastic about education. We will all miss Andrejs.

He cared, he loved, he was open, he was an inspiration, he was Andrejs.

Brian Phillips

(Special thanks to all those who provided me with memories of Andrejs, especially Kerstin Vännman who provided me with information at a most difficult time for her.)


Some tributes to Andrejs

Mogens Niss, Denmark: Although a full-fledged Swede, Andrejs never forgot his origin in Latvia, including his first language. Andrejs was a multifaceted person who took a serious interest in all sorts of things. That, together with peculiarities in the Swedish university system, is probably the main reason why he got his doctorate at a rather late age, in fact just a few years ago. I happened to be his external examiner. As you may imagine his dissertation was as multifaceted as his personality, ranging from internal mathematical research in potential theory, via explorative data analysis as an educational topic, to what is sometimes called 'didactical engineering' in the organisation of university mathematics teaching and learning. One of the things that struck me at his dissertation defense was the numerous present and former students of his who wanted to be present at this event. Their affection for him was very manifest.

Andy Begg, New Zealand: My memories of him are: - as a person, a gentleman, a lover of life, a humorist, a linguist (he started an presentation in NZ with a few lines of Maori in which he managed to make jokes within the language), someone who was always open, a supportive friend, and someone who always cared for others - as a teacher, someone who loved his subjects (stats, maths, stats ed, and maths ed), someone who loved his students (be they university students, eight-year-olds in the local school, or teachers in the workshops he gave internationally), and someone who really took advanced ideas (topics like EDA) and made them totally accessible to everyone he taught - as a mentor and an example, someone who I am very happy to see as the ideal role model for myself and for colleagues.

Cliff Konold, USA: I was taken by his playfulness, marveled at his command of English in that he was alert to every nuance of the language, couldn't get a joke by him. His story of fleeing the Continent as a young boy with his family as Hitler moved to the North also sticks in my mind.

David Green, United Kingdom: As a past editor of Teaching Statistics I had the privilege of contact with him on many occasions - not least for using his Footies as illustrations both in the journal and in the book which I edited "Teaching Statistics at its Best" - a very fitting description of his place in our subject.

Lionel Periera - Mendoza, Singapore: Andrejs and I did a joint workshop for teachers in Melbourne, Australia. One particular point I remember is his ability to relate to children. As part of this workshop each did an activity with a class. He did not know the children and was meeting them for the first time. He was able to establish an immediate rapport with the class and illustrated both his superb teaching skills and his rapport with and love of children. This was a great gift.

Sharleen Forbes New Zealand: I was one of a number of New Zealanders that Andrejs had stayed with. Both he and Kerstin had many friends here (as I'm sure they did around the world). My son, Joss, and I stayed at their home in Luleå a few years ago and Andrejs had a special gift with children - almost becoming one of them when he played games, etc. He was a very tolerant and loving man and will be remembered for his witty sense of humour and 'footies' cartoons which appeared at many conferences. It was a privilege to have known him.

Alan Rogerson, Australia: My connection with Andrejs goes back more than twenty years when we were both attending the renowned CIEAEM annual conferences in Europe and also we met at the CIEAEM meeting in Mexico (1980). We have kept in touch over the years and he joined and contributed to the Mathematics Education into the 21st century Project after 1986. In 1992 he invited me to visit Sweden and helped organise a lecture tour for me there including visiting Luleå and meeting him, Kerstin and Adam again.
He wrote a lovely little booklet explaining how to solve Rubik's Cube .When I visited him in Luleå he drove me North into the Arctic circle (it was Summer forunately) and showed me a wonderful cascade which he especially liked. We had lunch together there, just the two of us, and in the distance were a range of hills. He asked me "Do you recognise them?" They were the hills he always drew in the background of the Footies!
Andrejs was yo-yo champion of Sweden for at least one year. On his visit to Australia he dined at our home one evening and mentioned this fact and showed us the yo-yo he always carried around with him and demonstrated that he was still very skilfull in its use! Being yo-yo champion seems something typical of Andrejs and his love of life and variety!

Jim Swift, Canada: We worked with Andrejs in Kenya in the 60's and remained close friends. My wife and I spent a lovely few days together with them in Ucluelet on the West Coast of Vancouver Island after the Icots 2 conference in Victoria. The walks along the long wild beaches there are some of our most treasured memories. Now that I work in that area I am often reminded of that holiday and enjoy those memories.Andrejs was one of those rare people around whom one could not help but grow. His body may have died, but what he was cannot.

Leo Hassler, Sweden: At the funeral I cited Andrejs from Selected Lectures from the 7th International Congress on Mathematical Education 1992:

When I was down beside the sea
A wooden spade they gave to me
To dig the sandy shore.
My holes were empty like a cup,
In every hole the sea came up
Till it could come no more.

R. L Stevenson

"What matters, writes Andrejs, is that the child gets many opportunities of digging many holes, each hole having its merits, joys, surprises and limitations."

Truly, to Andrejs even holes were full.

Andrejs Dunkels Swedish orbituary

Universitetslektor, fil dr Andrejs Dunkels, Luleå, har hastigt avlidit i hemmet, 59 år gammal. Hans närmaste är hustrun Kerstin Vännman, sonen Adam, döttrarna Anna, Ulrika, Elza, systrarna Lou, Astrida, Ieva, samtliga med familjer, samt styvmor Irena och svärmor Elsa.

Oktober 1944 kom Andrejs Dunkels, som då var fem år gammal, tillsammans med sin familj till Sverige som flykting från Lettland. Sin ungdomstid tillbringade han i Uppsala där han tog studenten 1958 och blev fil mag 1964. Året därpå flyttade han till Umeå för att undervisa i matematik vid universitetet. Under åren 1966 - 68 var Andrejs Dunkels i Nairobi och utbildade blivande lärare vid KSTC. Han återvände till Umeå universitet och blev 1972 fil lic i matematik. Han tillträdde 1973 en tjänst som universitetslektor vid Högskolan i Luleå. Hösten 1996 disputerade Andrejs Dunkels, som den förste i Sverige, i matematik med didaktisk inriktning.

Andrejs Dunkels var en mångsidig begåvning. I sin forskning gjorde han intressanta insatser inom den rena matematiken men det som låg honom närmast hjärtat var att forska kring matematiken i relation till hur man lär sig den, alltifrån förskola till universitet. Han var en lysande lärare med en sällsynt förmåga att inspirera. Andrejs Dunkels var en mycket eftertraktad föredragshållare och föreläste vid såväl internationella konferenser som studiedagar. Han utvecklade ett stort kontaktnät med kollegor och forskare världen över. Många av dessa blev också hans personliga vänner.

Andrejs Dunkels skrev många uppskattade läroböcker och publicerade ett stort antal vetenskapliga och populärvetenskapliga artiklar. Han hade ett levande intresse för språk och behärskade bl a lettiska och swahili. Han sjöng i kör och han tecknade. Hans välkända Fotisar, fyndiga teckningar med ett stort mått av varm humor, har roat många under årens lopp. Hans goda humör och optimistiska livssyn hjälpte honom genom flera långa sjukdomsperioder. De sista månaderna av sitt liv mådde han bra och började åter planera för framtiden.

Genom sitt genuina människointresse och sin stora entusiasm kom han att betyda mycket för många. Det känns som en stor ynnest att ha haft Andrejs som vän och arbetskamrat.

Lennart Andersson
Gerd Brandell
Håkan Ekblom
Elisabet Falk


Translation (Thanks to internet)

Andrejs Dunkels, Ph.D., University lecturer, Luleå, died suddenly in his home at the age of 59. His next of kin are his wife Kerstin Vännman, son Adam, daughters Anna, Ulrika, Elza, sisters Lou, Astrida, Ieva, all who have their own families, stepmother Irena and mother-in-law Elsa.

In October 1944 Andrejs Dunkels, who was then five years old, arrived in Sweden with his family, fugitives from Latvia. He spent his youth in Uppsala, where he graduated in 1958, received his master's degree {?} in 1964. The year after that he moved to Umeå to teach mathematics at the university. Andrejs Dunkels spent the years 1966 - 68 in Nairobi teaching aspiring teachers at KSTC. He returned to Umeå University where he received his {something between master's degree and Ph.D} in mathematics in 1972. In 1973 he started his tenure as lecturer at the Luleå University. In the autumn of 1996 he was the first in Sweden to make a disputation of didactic mathmatics.

Andrejs Dunkels was a man of many talents. During his research he made many interesting discoveries in the field of pure mathematics, but what laid closest to his heart was the research of mathematics in relation to how to learn it, from pre-school to university. He was a brilliant teacher with a rare ability to inspire. Andrejs Dunkels was a much sought-after as a lecturer, and spoke both at international conferences and in-service training days. He developed an extensive network of collegues and researchers all over the world. Many of these became his personal friends.

Andrejs Dunkels wrote several acclaimed textbooks and published a large amount of articles on science and popular science. He had a burning interest for language and was fluent in, among others, Latvian and Swahili. He was a choir singer and artist. His well-known "Footies" - witty drawings with a lot of warm humour - has amused many during the years. His high spirits and optimistic view of life helped him get through several long periods of illness. During his last months he was feeling well and had started planning for the future.

His genuine philanthropy and great enthusiasm meant much to a lot of people. It is a great honour to have known Andrejs as a friend and collegue.

Lennart Andersson
Gerd Brandell
Håkan Ekblom
Elisabet Falk


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