A recipient of an Emmanuel College Travel Fellowship for Advanced Study, Molly Cartier '16 traveled to Tampere, Finland, for three weeks in May 2014 to study what makes public schools in Finland so successful.
The mathematics and secondary education major spent her 2013 winter break studying curricula from around the world and found that the Nordic country was consistently on top in rankings and test scores. Recognizing that the best way to survey the Finnish curriculum was to observe it firsthand, Cartier researched various travel programs but discovered that none directly fit her academic goals. With the help of Assistant Professor of Theology and Religious Studies and Director of Fellowships Laurie Johnston and Associate Professor of Sociology Katrin Križ, she applied for the travel fellowship and connected with a teacher at Sammon Lukio, an upper secondary school in Tampere, who invited her to observe his classroom.
"The school system was radically different than that of the United States," Cartier said, noting that the entire country is aligned in terms of standards and requirements, eliminating the challenge for teachers to meet different criteria set out by counties, districts and individual schools.
Each student must also pass at least four categories of the matriculation exam to graduate--but the students are able to choose which categories they will be tested in at the beginning of the upper secondary experience. This allows students to focus on developing their areas of interest, Cartier said, which affects their experience and dedication to learning.
"Both students and teachers are granted more autonomy, and, as a result, the students really take responsibility for themselves," she said. "They are driven because they know what task is set up for them. Since they chose the subjects, they are more likely to be invested."
Cartier was able to spend time at a couple of different schools in Finland, but it was one school, Sammon Lukio, and one teacher, Timo, that made the biggest impression.
"Timo taught me so much," she said. "After 30 years of teaching, he still tries new things in his classroom every day. Each lesson he teaches is different. The students reacted so positively because he was so animated and interesting to watch. He did not try to entertain, but his natural enthusiasm drew many students in."
Cartier's trip marked her first time abroad. Adjusting to being in a different country was "interesting," Cartier said, getting used to everything from new smells to small cultural differences.
"The first night, everything looked so odd to me and I wondered what I had gotten myself into," she said. "I couldn't believe I was really there. However, after the first day at school I was blown away and could not have been more appreciative for the experience. That very first day I learned so many things that made me think, 'This is exactly what I wanted to see.' Not all of it was what I had expected, which made it more enriching."
As all of the country's students are required to learn both English and Swedish in addition to their native Finnish, Cartier had little difficulty with language barriers and even made a few good friends during her stay at the hostel and her time at the schools.
"While I was shadowing, there was a teacher from the Netherlands who had received a grant from the [European Union], or some organization under the EU, which allowed her to travel to Finland and study the education system," she said. "It was awesome because she had been a teacher for about four years and was doing what I was doing."
"My time in Finland was life changing," Cartier said. "It opened my eyes to how ignorant I have been and made me excited for how much there is to learn about the world. For me, the world has gotten both larger and smaller."
Cartier will use the research she completed on this trip to inform her senior distinction project, which she will present in the spring of 2015 prior to graduating in December.
To learn more about fellowships at Emmanuel College, visit our Scholarships + Fellowships page.