Strategic Focus on Education

Fulbright Finland is putting to good use its various internationalization services and grant programs to facilitate sharing of best practices between American and Finnish educators at all levels and subjects, and to support research that addresses innovations in education.

This Program is about Our Students

Finnish teachers Susanna Soininen and Maija Heikkilä are spending a semester at the University of Indiana in Bloomington through the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching program. They explore, for example, multidisciplinary ways of teaching English and the use of primary as part of learning processes in history classes. The same program will bring eight exceptional primary and secondary teachers of STEM, Music and English language from the U.S. to Joensuu, Jyväskylä and Helsinki, to pursue inquiry projects that are closely linked to the new Finnish national core curriculum.

 “Being part of this exceptional program and one of the 21 teachers from all over the world has given me new perspectives on teaching and education as a whole. When you see how things are done differently you start to value your own systems benefits, but also see how some practices could work in your own system and make it ever more challenging and inspiring for the students.  For better understanding of the Global Citizenship you just need to have the opportunity to exchange views and practices worldwide. For me personally this Fulbright-experience has been inspiring and has increased my desire to develop education as a whole even more than before,” says Susanna Soininen from Jyväskylän lyseo upper secondary school.

“I cannot wait to get back in my class to try everything I have learned. It has been amazing to meet so many new people from so many countries around the world most of whom work in education. Sharing experiences and learning from each other has been one of the best opportunities of this program and we intend to stay in touch after the semester and design global projects with our students. I feel very motivated and am full of ideas that I look forward to share with my students and I think that is what this program is about - our students.” says Maija Heikkilä fromTervakosken yhteiskoulu comprehensive school.

Pebble into Water

Fulbright-Scholar-in-Residence program (SIR) attracted Taina Wewer from the Teacher Training School of University of Turku, to spend a year at the Denison University in Ohio. Wewer lectures about Education in Finland particularly from the viewpoint of the Basic Education Core Curriculum Reform 2016 and Bilingual Education in general. 

“Especially the SIR program, due to its highly academic, long-term and comprehensive nature, provides a large binational platform for approaching education from comparative angle that promotes understanding on diverse educational policies and practices. More importantly, it enables interaction between individuals (both teachers and students) and higher education establishments seeking ways to improve future education.

Education is like dropping a pebble into water - the emerging circles are first small, but gradually grow larger. From a program like SIR, larger waves of new views and practices are likely to originate, either through the students exposed to study with a comparative touch or teachers involved with the program.

In Finland, since I am working in bilingual instruction in the Teacher Training School of Turku University, it is possible to share the learnings, impressions as well as cultural and linguistic issues with the team of international and bilingual teachers, student teachers and the actual learners in the classroom. Additionally, there are several channels through which it is possible to disseminate good practices and new research knowledge of language-sensitive teaching - one of the key areas of my scholarly interests.”

Immense Impact on My Work

Photo: Kristina Urboniene

Perttu Järvenpää, an English Teacher from Omnia vocational school in Espoo, spent five weeks at the University of Montana last summer. “The impact of the extremely well-organized and thorough program on my work as a teacher of English has been immense. I now have an extensive insight into the similarities and differences between the U.S. and Europe. Some of my students are refugees who have just been given immigrant status and it is vital for my work that I can help them integrate into Finnish society and the rest of the Western world. I wouldn’t be able to give them an objective view on the United States had I not been part of the Study of the U.S. Institute program this summer.”

Arto Kallioniemi, Deputy Head of Teacher Education from the University of Helsinki, praised how the Study of the U.S. Institute for Scholars on Religious Pluralism in the U.S. gave him a lot of tools to examine diversity and multiculturalism. “It is not possible to understand religious pluralism merely by reading books.  Religious diversity in California and the opportunity to study and reflect it together with a multicultural group of academics from around the world at the University of California, Santa Barbara, was an opportunity of a life-time.”

Benefits for Large Audience

The growing need of addressing the issue of diverse learners and learning difficulties in science education inspired Kari Sormunen, Senior lecturer from University of Eastern Finland in Joensuu to apply for the Mid-Career Professional Development program. “In the U.S., the challenge of diverse learners has a long history, and Stanford University as one of the leading education research institutions offered me an invaluable chance for implementing my project,” says Sormunen. “International exchange programs for professionals in the field of education are especially powerful because they not only benefit the grantees and their home institution but much larger audience that includes other professors, lecturers, teachers, teacher trainees, students, and education administrators. As a teacher educator, I believe that the new knowledge I have gained from my MCPD-program will be widely distributed in Finland through the teacher trainees and various in-service training opportunities provided for teachers, as well as through scientific articles.” 

Text: Mirka McIntire