African hills and acacia thorns

Upper-secondary school pupils from Espoo visited the University of Helsinki’s Taita Research Station in Kenya in February and March 2017.

On a safari, pupils got face to face with a lion. They brought back experiences and observations of the local culture, animals, plants and environments – as well as a school credit for a course.

Astounding Africa

Olli-Matti Harve is interested in geography, and he decided to join the trip after seeing a note on the school notice board advertising this extraordinary biology and geography course at the University of Helsinki’s Taita Research Station in Kenya. As the school didn’t cover the cost of the trip, the parents paid for the flights and accommodation.

— I was surprised at the positive attitude of the Kenyans. The locals were content with their circumstances, and they had a positive outlook on life, says Olli-Matti Harve now.

Biology and geography through travel 

The pupils had been tasked with collecting material for a group project during the trip.

Harve’s project topic was how the trees on the savannah protect themselves from animals.

— During our safari days and on our stops along the way from Nairobi to Taita, I measured the length of the thorns on the acacia trees and observed which animals were nearby, Harve explains.

The travellers studied background literature and put the finishing touches on their projects once they were back in Finland.

Other pupils focused on trees on the savannah and in the rain forest, or compared the education systems in Kenya and Finland. Some studied tourism, which expanded the topic of the trip to cultural geography, a subject rarely discussed at school.

The parents of the pupils will also be invited to see the project presentations at the school.  

The Kenyan trip was planned by the biology and geography teachers from the upper-secondary schools in Tapiola and Olari who joined the pupils in Kenya, as well as Leif Schulman, the director of Luomus, and the hosts in Kenya: Professor Jouko Rikkinen and the other staff at the Taita Research Station.

Global responsibility

Finnish school pupils visit the Taita Research Station, established in 2011, every year.  The Kauniaisten lukio and Grankulla Samskolan, both upper-secondary schools in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area, have made three visits so far. This time, the trip had eight pupils from the upper-secondary school in Tapiola and eight from Olari.

The exceptional nature in the Taita Hills had drawn Finnish researchers even before the Research Station was founded. Professor Petri Pellikka has worked in the area since 2004.

— The Research Station is an example of our global responsibility, or at least it lets pupils, students and researchers experience third-world conditions as well as teach and do research there, says Professor Petri Pellikka from the University of Helsinki.