The Fulbright Forum in Finland

by Charlotte Fisken, ’16-17

The Fulbright Forum in Finland is an opportunity for the American grantees who are studying, teaching, and researching all over the country to come together and present the fruits of their labor. The first day is dedicated to education topics, while the second day includes everything from medicine to visual art.

As a teacher and education policy enthusiast, attending the Forum was a natural choice for me. Finland’s consistently impressive PISA scores have made the country an important destination for anyone looking to explore best practices in education. Not surprisingly, the American Fulbright Finland cohort includes a group of primary and secondary teachers who spend three to six months exploring various aspects of Finnish schools. I was eager to hear from them about insights they had gleaned through this experience.

These teachers did share the valuable knowledge I expected, but what I appreciated most was their candor. Rather than simply extol the virtues of the lauded Finnish education system, they presented research that illuminated both the strengths and weaknesses of Finnish schools. There were informative presentations on pedagogical topics such as project-based learning, special education, and sustainability education; these presenters explained how best practices from Finland could be incorporated in the U.S. context. Other presenters focused on the connection between education and society, which led to reflective discussions about what can be done to combat systemic racism in Finnish preschools, and about why immigrants’ educational outcomes are not keeping pace with their peers’. These questions are equally relevant in Norway, and I left motivated to explore these issues further.

In typical Fulbright fashion, lunch breaks offered insights too. At one point an American teacher was describing her 3-year-old daughter’s experience in Finnish preschool. The little girl had come home one day and declared “I can do more than I thought I could.” Her daughter was referring to climbing a daunting structure at school, but the phrase also summed up what I found most impressive about the Forum. Most presenters spoke not only about what they had learned, but what they planned to do with that knowledge. An engineering professor and student presented about the importance of doing more to raise public awareness of climate science and innovation. Teachers talked about how they felt empowered to do more for their students and schools. Scholars across a variety of fields offered thoughts on what we can do to increase the accessibility, and thus impact, of academia as a whole.

My impression is that this sense of agency and responsibility is not unique to the Fulbrighters in Finland. Fulbright offers grantees all over the world an invaluable opportunity to critically examine their values and beliefs in ways that lead to greater understanding, innovation, and positive impact.

Finally, I want to extend my sincere thanks to the Fulbright Finland Commission for their hospitality. They treated James (fellow Norway ETA) and me like honored guests, and invited us to join them for a museum tour and tasty Finnish buffet dinner after the first day of presentations.