Societies recovering from the crisis will build on the power of knowledge and decency

The future of Finland and the world at large rests on the foundation of Bildung.

The writing was published in Helsingin Sanomat 1.5.2020.

Amid this coronavirus crisis, Finns are increasingly putting their trust in research-based knowledge. Scientists are expected to come up with quick solutions to vanquish the pandemic.

In the long run, research is needed to establish ways to avoid future crises and to determine how societies and humanity have adapted to the current exceptional circumstances and how they may have changed in the process.

As an ecologist, I am particularly interested in how people’s relationship with the environment evolves; after all, the whole coronavirus crisis in all likelihood stems from a distorted interaction between humans and nature. Like many other dangerous coronaviruses, COVID-19 is probably a zoonotic virus that migrated from an animal to a human being.

The ongoing pandemic demonstrates why investing in sustainable development is in society's interest. Societies will swiftly recover from the coronavirus outbreak if they are resilient. ‘Resilience’ is an ecological concept dating back to the 1970s that has recently been applied to the context of human beings and societies.

When a society is resilient, it will not collapse, but will retain its capacity to function despite any crises it encounters. In the maelstrom of a crisis, a society may change in some respects, but thanks to its capacity to learn, it will retain its basic functions. A crisis or disruption can, of course, be caused by something other than a virus, such as climate change.

Studying and evaluating societal resilience requires a multidisciplinary approach bringing together medical research, the natural sciences and social sciences as well as cultural studies. Such work is carried out by the Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science (HELSUS) and the Helsinki One Health network, which focuses on the interconnection between human and animal health in a rapidly changing environment. Their research results are disseminated across society thanks to collaboration between researchers and societal decision-makers. The well-functioning provision of advice based on science contributes to a shared interpretation of a post-corona world, the phenomena associated with it and the required measures to boost resilience.

The COVID-19 scientific panel appointed by the Finnish Government is an excellent forum for collaboration between the scientific world and political decision-makers. The University of Helsinki also established an ideas group to prepare the University and society for the post-pandemic era.

Besides offering science-based advice for the benefit of political decision-makers, we would like to disseminate scientific knowledge throughout society. As stated in its new strategic plan, the University of Helsinki will promote the popularisation of science, science education and continuous learning. Each and every citizen must have the opportunity to enjoy knowledge and educate themselves.

By investing in education and edification, or what is comprehensively covered by the term Bildung, we can increase the resilience of both individuals and societies. Therefore, the future of Finland and the world at large rests on the foundation of Bildung.

Bildung is not only book knowledge, but also broad-mindedness, a willingness to learn, empathy, and respect for other people and nature. As Bildung is about behaving with human decency, it will prove to be a vital virtue when we are heading towards recovery in the aftermath of the crisis.