Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Why am I in Finland?

As I have mentioned earlier, in most of my initial interactions with Finns they question why I came to Finland (that, and figuring out my age for some reason).  Since so many people are wondering why I had come here when, as they say, I "could have gone anywhere in the world," I figured it would be easy to explain it more fully in a blog post.  From everyone I have met, the most common reasons for people to come to Finland are a fascination with the Muumi characters, Finnish metal music, or the Finnish education system.  Knowing almost nothing about the first two before arriving (and still very little), I fall solidly into the third category.

Finland is also known as being fairly "environmentally friendly" AND "economically stable", which is a paradox to most Americans who fundamentally believe that you have to choose between the two.  Yet Finland has managed to build an economy that is hit less hard by global recessions around sustainable resource extraction (see my earlier post about sustainable Finnish forestry that forms the basis of their economy).  Such sustainability must be learned somehow, and I was struck by the fact that Finland is also known as a global leader in education.  This made sense to me -- a society must be educated about the effects of its choices on the global system in order to care about those choices.

To quickly check this hypothesis of correlation between education and environmental sustainability, I plotted proxy measures of "environmental sustainability" (Yale University Environmental Performance Index, Environmental Health ranking) against "education system quality" (PISA science test scores).  I also looked at GDP data (obtained from Gapminder) to see how that fit into the picture.

Plots showing the relationship between Environmental Health, Educational Achievement, and GDP.  The USA has a slightly below average Environmental Health for its Educational Achievement, but that is low for its GDP.  This makes me think that if we can improve education, we can improve our environment as well.  Finland is excellent in both cases, which is why I am here to learn from them.
This sort of simple analysis showing correlation does NOT prove causation, especially in complex social systems.  However, OECD studies show that the majority of students get their information about environmental issues from school, meaning that schools do indeed play a major role in shaping students' understanding of these issues.  So it would make sense that better education systems are better able to created sustainability-minded students.

Students get the majority of their information on environmental issues from school, though many get additional information elsewhere.  From "PISA in Focus - How Green Are Our 15-Year-Olds"
With all this in mind, I hope to learn a couple specific things from Finland that I believe are generally applicable:
  1. Educational and environmental policy.  How are education and environmentalism treated by the government?
  2. Underlying societal attitudes.  Policy is (supposed to be) an extension of the underlying cultural attitudes, especially in complex social arenas like education and environment.
  3. Cultural transmission.  How are these attitudes and philosophies passed on to the next generation?
  4. Innovations in both education and environmentalism resulting from the different attitudes.  While not everything will be applicable to the USA, I am positive I will find some new things that are applicable to my personal life and that of others who strive to be good educators and/or environmentally-conscious citizens.
As always, if you have something specific you would like to learn about, let me know!

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