Experiencing Europe from different angles – Jean Monnet funding supports Otaniemi general upper secondary school and the Aleksanteri Institute of the University of Helsinki
The Aleksanteri Institute of the University of Helsinki is starting to teach more actively about current issues in Eastern Europe: security and the development of the rule of law.
“We look at security broadly, not only from the military perspective: it includes the economy, energy security and the security of society,” says Docent Katalin Miklóssy.
“How people understand threats and who they consider friends and who enemies affects their willingness to participate in regional cooperation and integration. The perceptions of security may also contribute to an increase in the popularity of a centralised model of government, which has previously provided security for nations.”
The teaching will be supported with Jean Monnet funding, which is part of the European Union's Erasmus+ programme. Jean Monnet funding supports teaching, learning, research and debates on the European Union in the different sectors of education. Monnet is regarded as one of the founders of the European Union. A guiding principle in the funding is also to support and strengthen the Union's values.
Miklóssy received the funding for Jean Monnet Chairs, which lasts three years. The project looks at Eastern Europe: the EU’s eastern Member States, Western Balkans and the EU’s partner countries such as Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. The region is politically topical not only because of the war in Ukraine but also because there is increasing discussion about the Union's willingness to expand towards the East.
Enlivening the EU
Teaching about the EU is approached from a very different angle at Otaniemi general upper secondary school, where innovative teaching methods on EU issues are developed, likewise with the help of Jean Monnet funding.
Students who are interested in EU issues can use the Brysselin torilla exercise for a virtual visit to the central square in Brussels. The Thinglink application opens a 360-degree view, and the students can meet dozens of different EU decision-makers and advocates, starting from Ursula von der Leyen. Students make role cards using these persons.
“The cards have also been used to create a speed dating game, in which these persons can date each other,” says Juha-Pekka Lehtonen, teacher of history and social studies in the school.
In another exercise, students assume the roles of different EU countries and organise a summit in which everyone defends their standpoints.
Otaniemi general upper secondary school decided to apply for Jean Monnet funding really because Sari Halavaara, a colleague of Lehtonen, was asked to apply for it.
“We have been active in EU issues for years,” Halavaara says.
The Jan Comenius contest, which they won in 2020 (link in Finnish), may be the reason in the background. In the contest, they developed an escape game for learning how decisions are made in the EU.
Otaniemi general upper secondary school was formed by merging two general upper secondary schools, both of which were already EPAS schools (European Parliament Ambassador School). Halavaara says that the more than 1,200 pupils of the school have a wide variety of interests.
“We thought this kind of funding would enable us to do something extra to strengthen the community spirit and bring likeminded people together.”
They had also recognised the need to enliven EU issues as, on average, the young people in the school seemed to consider EU issues difficult and boring.
“We began to reflect on how we can develop this boredom into something better,” Lehtonen says.
As a result, gameful methods are first tried with a smaller group of people and later introduced in teaching targeted at everyone, at least on the YH3 course in history and social sciences, which is compulsory for everyone.
COVID-19 distanced people and made them passive
There was also another reason for the need to enliven EU issues. General upper secondary schools are living the post-COVID era, and many young people have problems with communication and communal skills. If a person has lived their most delicate secondary-school years learning remotely, the requirements of learning together in general upper secondary school may be difficult.
“Learning that takes place in interaction is at the core of learning in general upper secondary education,” Halavaara says. “The post-COVID situation is visible as certain kind of passivity, especially as our school is big and the students don’t know each other.”
In a situation like this, games throw students outside their comfort zones.
“We try to use this to also influence the whole school culture,” Halavaara says.
Part-time teaching and development of teaching
Katalin Miklóssy is about to start a course on the Black Sea region, and the Jean Monnet funding also increases her teaching in other ways – professors awarded the funding provide 90 teaching hours per year.
“It will keep me quite busy,” she says and laughs.
The funding is vital for the teaching.
“For a long time, we were not allowed to employ part-time teachers. Now I am not restricted by the budget issues in the harsh reality of the university. Instead, I can employ the people I want to.”
Indeed, she has a team teaching for almost 300 hours a year within the project.
Otaniemi general upper secondary school uses the funding to develop their teaching. According to Juha-Pekka Lehtonen, teaching would of course be developed anyway, but the funding helps as now they have the permission to use working hours for the development work.
“Otherwise, we would probably develop these things in our own time and would be more tired,” he says, laughing.
The lessons learnt are also shared more widely
The purpose of the funding is also to spread researched information to society more widely. For example, Miklóssy’s project will produce a handbook for teachers of history and social studies in general upper secondary schools. In connection with the earlier Jean Monnet project, Miklóssy gave speeches to the Association for Teachers of History and Social Studies in Finland, chambers of commerce, personnel at the Foreign Ministry and non-governmental organisations.
She hopes cooperation will be similar this time, too. She intends to organise a morning coffee event for decision-makers and journalists to shed light on the latest developments in Eastern Europe and their background. Both a non-scientific and a scientific book will be published at the end of the project.
Like in previous EU projects, Otaniemi general upper secondary school compiles the lessons learnt from this project in the blog Ovet auki Eurooppaan, and innovative methods are also offered for other schools to use.
“Our escape game is getting to the stage where we could distribute it publicly,” Juha-Pekka Lehtonen says.
A small amount of money is a seed
Jean Monnet funding is not a very large sum of money. The funding for Jean Monnet Chairs is EUR 50,000 at the most for three years and the Learning EU initiatives EUR 30,000 at the most for three years.
According to Katalin Miklóssy, the workload required for preparing the application is fairly high, which is why many researchers in higher education institutions prefer to apply for larger grants such as those awarded by the Research Council of Finland. However, the small funding can be used as a seed that will multiply itself with an innovative cooperation pattern,” she says.
“You shouldn't look down even on a small amount of money.”
The workload was also noticed in Otaniemi general upper secondary school, but they still think if was worthwhile to apply for it.
“In the end, we managed to do everything and people in the EU helped us a great deal,” Lehtonen says.