VALUABLE LESSONS - JSE MAGAZINE

VALUABLE LESSONS

Entrepreneurial education in all schools could revolutionise learning and boost the economy

VALUABLE LESSONS

If plan A doesn’t work, don’t worry. The alphabet has 25 more letters. This practical approach to school – teaching learners how to solve problems rather than memorise facts by rote learning – could be the solution to SA’s under-performing education system (although learning the alphabet from A to Z will, of course, remain non-negotiable).

A draft 15-year national sector plan intends to embed practical social entrepreneurship and employability training into the national school curriculum. Learners will experience hands-on, project-based entrepreneurial learning from pre-school (grade R) all the way to matric (grade 12).

This early, continuous exposure to entrepreneurial education supports the NDP to create 11 million jobs (7.7 million of which will need to come out of the small business sector) by 2030. It is also in line with the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report that found young people to be 1.6 times more likely than adults to start their own business.

However, this does not mean that the entire 12 million learners going through SA’s school system each year are expected to start their own businesses. Far from it.

‘Although the initiative is called Entrepreneurship in Schools, it’s much more than that. Entrepreneurship is a keyword for teaching higher-order thinking skills,’ says educational entrepreneur Taddy Blecher.

Starting out as an actuary, he turned down dizzying job offers from overseas to become the brain behind the quest for free tertiary education back home in SA.

‘While this initiative will not turn all children into entrepreneurs in the technical business sense, it aims to build their mindsets and instil the drive for success. An entrepreneur is a questioner. Someone who is always trying to improve. The idea is to teach children how to think creatively and draw upon their own gifts to turn problems into opportunities.

‘By 2030, we want 100% of school leavers to be employable, able to study further or able to build something meaningful for profit or non-profit and generally lead a productive life,’ he says.

SMEs

Blecher’s achievements in the educational sphere include co-founding SA’s first no-fee business university in 2000 – CIDA City Campus in Lyndhurst. Six years later he became a partner at the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship and in 2007 established the Maharishi Institute in central Johannesburg, which offers youth from disadvantaged communities access to higher education.

He also featured alongside Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu in the 21 Icons Project – described as a ‘visual celebration of the lives of men and women who have shaped the world around them for the better’. The WEF also named him a ‘Global Leader of Tomorrow’ (2002) and a ‘Young Global Leader of the World’ (2005).

More recently, Blecher has been instrumental in developing the national blueprint for entrepreneurship in schools. He chairs the Human Resource Development Council’s (HRDC) Enabling Entrepreneurship technical task team, which was established in 2011 and reports to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The task team – mandated with developing a set of national recommendations to reduce youth unemployment and boost entrepreneurship in the country – has been working with schools, universities, colleges and small businesses. After analysing more than 700 studies on entrepreneurship, conducting in excess of 200 meetings with various national departments and researching international best practice, the draft national sector plan was written and, in 2015, given the thumbs up by the Council of Education Ministers.

The national blueprint will not require a curriculum review and entrepreneurship will not become a standalone school subject. Instead, entrepreneurial micro-projects will be incorporated into various subjects while business clubs, games, practical hands-on learning, competitions and Olympiads will seek to entrench an entrepreneurial mindset.

According to Blecher: ‘In all grades, age-relevant and curriculum-appropriate projects will stretch the learners’ minds to think and care about things, resolve things, invent things, make things and sell things. This way maths, science, history and other subjects will not remain theoretical concepts but become something tangible.

‘Millions of kids learn poorly and slowly in our school system because subjects are taught out of context. Education needs to wake kids up, so that learning becomes a joy.

‘Teaching must be brought to life. The moment children see that something is useful or exciting for them, they find it easy to learn. The idea is to fully utilise the precious human capital that we have in the country,’ he says.

This is not as idealistic as it may sound. Across the globe, countries have already integrated project-based entrepreneurial education into their school systems. The European Commission has, for example, launched its Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan in which schools play a key role. A 2013 report explains: ‘Entrepreneurship education is currently being promoted in most European countries. Several different approaches have been adopted. Economic growth strategies also often embrace entrepreneurship education.

‘Because education is key to shaping young people’s attitudes, skills and culture, it is vital that entrepreneurship education is addressed from an early age. As the importance of developing an entrepreneurial spirit during compulsory education has now been recognised, this often leads to partnerships between stakeholders in education and those from different economic sectors,’ the report states.

Valuble lessons
‘Our aim is to enable businesses to invest in basic education through a co-ordinated strategy’

GABRIELLA GEFFEN, TECHNICAL TASK TEAM MEMBER, HRDC

In line with this, one pillar of SA’s Entrepreneurship in Schools initiative focuses on engagement with the private sector.

Gabriella Geffen, who is a member of the HRDC Enabling Entrepreneurship task team and responsible for business development at the Maharishi Institute, says private companies are already investing heavily in education in SA, but often with a scattered, duplicated effect.

She explains: ‘Our aim is to enable businesses to invest in basic education through a co-ordinated strategy and to see them actively engage with local schools to facilitate practical learning experiences.

‘It’s important that teachers interact with businesses as well, to improve their ability to effectively teach entrepreneurship. Businesses can be actively involved in local skills development by speaking at school events, sharing stories, talking about lessons learnt, encouraging learners to think about starting their own businesses and teaching skills.

‘Local businesses could also engage with schools to offer hands-on experiences to learners such as mini-internships or activities during the holidays and “send a child to work” days, as well as offering professional development courses for teachers.

‘On a more passive level of involvement, companies can invest in the initiative, especially in the beginning phases, as the National Treasury will only come on board in a few years’ time,’ she says.

The first steps have already been taken. A ‘legacy project’ in economic management science (EMS) encourages grade 7 learners to come up with something they can leave behind for their primary school before embarking on their high school career.

These projects are not meant to require financial resources as the thrust lies on brainstorming, creativity and engagement between learners, teachers and parents. Similar projects are under way in the grades 8 and 9 EMS curriculum. Meanwhile,a pilot study with the International Labour Organisation is bringing entrepreneurship to life for 17 000 learners in 67 schools in the Free State – again without any change to the national curriculum.

Blecher explains: ‘The initial results of the programme, called startUP&go, are very, very encouraging. It was introduced three years ago for grade 10 business studies learners who are now in matric. The impact on both learners and teachers is currently being assessed.’

This year, a large-scale teacher training pilot will be implemented, starting on an opt-in basis with schools whose principals are eager to participate. The task team will continue its nationwide audit of what entrepreneurial activities are already being done by non-profit as well as government organisations in schools.

‘Hundreds of organisations are providing a wealth of activities, often on an extramural basis. We want to see what is working well and where we could have a collaboration so all resources are moving in the right direction,’ says Blecher. According to those involved, everybody is set to benefit from the initiative.

As part of the broader national entrepreneurship strategy, the basic education blueprint is closely linked to corresponding programmes in universities and the small business sector.

‘Companies will benefit from creating a pipeline of strong, future employees with relevant skills and, most importantly, by having a country that actually works,’ according to Blecher.

‘Entrepreneurship in schools is not just a nice thing to do, it’s absolutely fundamental. How we develop the mindset of our youth will determine everything about the future of our country,’ he says.

‘It will determine how much employment there is, how much wealth, stability and healthcare, as well as the levels of crime and violence. We are competing in a global world and if we get this right, there’s no limit to what SA can achieve.’

By Silke Colquhoun
Image: 
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