The battle between old and new takes place in many different aspects of our everyday lives but has never been more evident than within the education sector in the 2020s. Robots and AI are no longer features of sci fi movies but very real aspects of our working lives and schools are in a continuous battle to keep up. The need to double down on efforts to fill the education gap is increasingly apparent as schools struggle to equip young people with skills for the workplace and employers scramble to find school leavers and graduates to fill job vacancies.
A small percentage of schools are taking steps towards innovation in the classroom by teaching big picture thinking and skills-based courses that can be monetised in the workplace but many school kids are still being prepared for traditional jobs and schools are not turning out the thinkers, innovators and leaders the world needs. The sheer size of educational institutions means that, even where superhuman efforts are being made by superhero teachers and career experts to align the curriculum to a fundamentally different job market, change happens slowly.
According to a recent survey at Oxford University, 50% of jobs are susceptible to automation involving more than 702 different types of occupation, making it more pressing than ever to inspire young people to be innovation-ready. Whilst we may not know exactly how things will unfold in a futuristic job market, it’s clear that encouraging the acquisition of certain key characteristics will not only help young people to adapt to work but also to a changing society. The key characteristics vary from one theory to another but most agree that the most important are innovation, creativity, initiative, risk-taking and critical thinking. The three-time Pulitzer prize winner Thomas Friedman believes schools should provide responsive, dynamic, and innovative knowledge and skills to their students, such as problem-solving, communication, critical thinking, and collaboration. Only then will young adults be equipped and ready to carve out a career for themselves in a job market that will continue to evolve at lightening speed. So how might we encourage the development of these attributes in our teens?
One way of ensuring the acquisition of these key characteristics is by encouraging entrepreneurship. Many of the young businesspeople I spoke to in the course of researching my book “Making Millions: How Ordinary Teens Can Transform into High Earners and How You Can Too”, (available on Amazon here) expressed the view that, as academically capable students at school, they were discouraged from entrepreneurship and advised either to study for a degree first or to gain work experience in the relevant area before going it alone. Successful young entrepreneurs who forged ahead regardless, are now growing in number and speaking out.
Entrepreneurial teens from all parts of the world report having been discouraged from entrepreneurship within the formal education setting. Regardless of geography there was no place for teenagers with big ideas to develop the necessary business intellect or build business networks as part of their education. Such advice harks back to a time when establishing businesses required significant up-front investment, cash to buy stock, premises to store the stock and staff to run premises.
Today the internet economy has levelled the playing field giving young people access to a ton of opportunities at little up-front cost. The introduction of entrepreneurship as a subject in in schools would not only prevent budding entrepreneurs from becoming disinterested and demotivated but call on them to solve problems, engage in critical thinking and communicate to relevant people in the course of transforming their ideas into a business in real-life. Mitra Sugata’s extensive studies on holistic learning in India found that the natural curiosity and inquisitiveness of kids can catalyse learning and young people form themselves naturally into cohesive groups and work together in a spirit of high innovation when working on finding solutions to real-life problems.
What changes would the curriculum undergo?
The notions of entrepreneurship and enterprise education should both be included in any consideration of entrepreneurship as a school subject. Both terms are widely used although their meaning slightly differs. Whilst entrepreneurship refers to transforming the world by solving problems, enterprise education focuses on self-employment and business management.
The easiest way to introduce entrepreneurship into schools is by teaching it in the same way executive managers are taught in large corporations. Students could participate in workshops, carry out group projects and presentations and form small task forces and committees as they learn to think outside the box to resolve their real-life project to establish a business. Different modules could be taught such as business communication, negotiation, sales, marketing, email marketing, coding, social media, content, SEO, link building, ads, among other things.
Industry experts and external organisations could be consulted to support and help staff to teach entrepreneurship. Mentoring programmes could be introduced pairing students with engineers, marketers or scientists which would allow them to showcase their skills and learn new ones. A lead teacher could be appointed to keep track of each person’s learning track. Students could submit a business plan for assessment at final exams and leave school with a clear route to setting up a business or with a business already in place.
Supporting the introduction of entrepreneurship into the curriculum
To make changes in the current curriculum and modernize it, schools could invite renowned young businesspeople and leading experts in various industries to join the core task force. With their knowledge, expertise, and experience they could, together with key officials, teachers, employers and career experts, formulate entrepreneurship modules to cater to the needs of teenagers with entrepreneurial potential.
Young entrepreneurs could be invited to host workshops or talk to students and share their personal experiences and career path. Similarly, local business owners might be invited to talk with students about their businesses. Suggested topics could be covered ranging from: how to network in a given niche, how to turn their business ideas into reality, how to manage businesses through uncertainty, what skills they need to develop as business owners, the necessity of stepping into the unknown and the inevitability in any entrepreneurial venture of learning as you go.
Entrepreneurship is not for everyone. I’ve spoken to students who can’t think of anything worse than taking on the mantle of entrepreneur. That is not to say that it’s not an invaluable course of study for most. Whilst students who study entrepreneurship may not all become entrepreneurs, they will become highly employable in the process of their studies. In a society where the gig economy and freelancing are growing exponentially, entrepreneurial skills are increasingly necessary in order to find and bid successfully for work and manage a business as an independent trader.
Schools must be equipped and ready to lead and encourage the young entrepreneurs already on the starting blocks, poised to launch their careers, at thirteen years old. We must provide those teens with fire in their bellies with an outlet for their creativity and energy and a safe place to deposit and polish and grow brilliant ideas. It’s increasingly possible to set up a business with little or no overheads so there are few reasons not to empower and teach young people to grab the helm and go. If a project doesn’t work out, there’s time. Time to rethink, time to regroup and time to have another go at something different.
If the education system fails young entrepreneurs, it fails the economy, holding back growth and threatening our competitiveness.