Tomorrow’s energy experts are still at school today. Some could find their way into the field through club and project activities.
Just over 1,500 young people become physics, chemistry, or math students at universities in Finland every year. Energy-related subjects are also taught at the country’s polytechnics and technical colleges. Employers are keen to access this new talent.
Turning ideas into reality
Tiina Varis of Finland’s Youth Academy says that successful hobby projects can often provide young people with the catalyst for their future careers. Hobbies teach how to work together and encourage them to take responsibility for what they do.
Through its Homma program, the Youth Academy helps young people aged between 13 and 19 to turn their dreams for their own band, film, event, club, or other project into reality. A theme day has been held on climate change, for example, and schools in Ilomantsi ran a year-long sustainable development project. An environmental musical has been produced by a school in Kuopio and an environmental supplement for the local paper in Kalajoki.
Projects typically receive sums between 100 and 200 euros. The best of them are featured in an annual gala. Many projects are backed by a school or organization. Over 10,000 young people have taken part in projects since the program was launched in 2006.
Inspiration from teachers
A good chemistry or physics teacher is one who can get their students really interested in the subject. One way of doing this is to arrange trips to companies or colleges to meet specialists in the field.
“When young people get to know the jobs done by math and natural science graduates, it’s easier for them to know whether that’s what might interest them,” says Maria Vänskä, who works as a coordinator at the Chemistry Teacher Training Unit at the University of Helsinki. “They are often keen to know more about things like sustainable development and new types of energy; and teachers often need to update their knowledge on these subjects as well.”
Jussi Mestari, a biology and geography teacher at Kauriala High School in Hämeenlinna very much agrees, as does Paula Perkkalainen, who teaches chemistry and math there. They and their students have visited the ChemistryLab Gadolin at the Kumpula campus to get some new ideas.
“It’s a great way to present young people with the options available to them in areas such as construction, engineering, automation, and materials technology. Our optional courses tend to be chosen by youngsters who are already really enthusiastic about the subjects. There are so many compulsory courses today that many kids don’t have the energy to take optional ones.”
How much copper is there in the metal sent to recycling plants or how much citric acid in a lemon or an orange is needed to flavor a juice drink?
“I like to plan tasks for young people that visit us around things that they could need in real life at work. Just mixing up compounds without any particular goal is pretty boring,” says Jaakko Lohenoja, who is studying to be a chemistry teacher at the University of Helsinki and is responsible for supervising high school groups visiting ChemistryLab Gadolin.
Energy questions have also proved interesting
“There’s been some discussion here about the challenges of teaching people about biofuels, and a master’s thesis is currently being written on the subject. The transesterification reaction used to produce biodiesel is not included in the high school chemistry syllabus, which makes teaching people about the fuel more difficult, and it would be useful to get teaching material on the subject from companies in the field,” says Lohenoja.
Lohenoja’s program for the students from Kauriala introduced them to thinking about environmental issues in recycling metals and the impact of recycling on the economy, while the work on citric acid introduced them to product development and marketing issues.
Text: Satu Alavalkama
Photo: Kari Hautala