Education has always been a rich field for acronyms and buzzwords; STEM, Growth Mindset, Design Thinking, Inquiry Based Learning, Crowdsourcing, Grit and Entrepreneurship form just a small sample. Back in the late ‘80s
I was based in a Tasmanian high school which ran an after school club for student entrepreneurs. The process was simple; the students purchased cheap products, bundled them together and sold them at an inflated price.
I still have the remnants of the “Complete Shoe Polishing Kit” that I was cajoled into buying at the time but entrepreneurship has certainly come a long way.
We read a great deal about the fact that we, as teachers, are “preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist”. I’ve always struggled to accept this rather facile claim but I most certainly see the benefits for students in developing the skills of the modern entrepreneur. In 2014, Business Insider identified a list of “20 Skills That All Successful Entrepreneurs Have” (edhq.co/1oBZ6Kl).
Prominent in this list are terms such as ‘analysis’, ‘problem solving’, ‘creativity’, ‘persistence’, ‘collaboration’, ‘technology use’ and ‘communication skills’. Further, it is no coincidence that these very same terms serve to link together the array of theories and methods identified in my opening sentence.
A significant number of Australian universities now offer degree courses in innovation and entrepreneurship. The University of New South Wales proudly publicises the fact that it has produced “more technology entrepreneurs in the past 15 years than any other Australian university”.
In my own home state, the University of Adelaide promises to give students the skills to create ventures “in everything from large corporations, to small businesses, the not-for-profit sector, and community organisations”. Whilst I see clear merit in these courses, what can we do to help build the necessary skills at high school or even primary school level?
Back in the day, student entrepreneurship was viewed as the sole province of business and commerce teachers. But I have witnessed in my own English and history classes, at middle school level, a real desire to be the next Mark Zuckerberg or at the very least make the numerous lists of very young, very successful, very wealthy entrepreneurs.
Of course, this desire can quickly disappear when it becomes obvious just how much hard work and dedication is required. As a counter to this Sir Richard Branson, who should know, has said that, “Starting young is good, you can either learn through failing, like I did, or you can learn by being successful”.”
Legend would have us believe that Branson started his Virgin business empire with just five pounds … and maybe he just did! However, as an employer, he has stated that he values the soft skills that applicants often lack; skills such as grit, determination and resilience.
You will find entrepreneurship as one of the key pillars of the Federal Government’s new National Innovation and Science Agenda. So, to return to my earlier question, what can educators at primary and secondary level do to teach entrepreneurship? You will find a surprisingly large number of ready to go resources online.
A simple Google search will yield in excess of 75 million hits; everything from inspirational posters to infographics and full units of work. I have found and used resources from numerous Pinterest boards and in particular like the various adaptations of the Shark Tank television series to educational use.
In my experience, the greatest ally in teaching the skills of entrepreneurship is to be found in the Maker Movement. When, last year, I helped to establish a maker space in my school library, students initially used it as an area for play. They were keen to 3D print animals, Pokemon balls and even a miniature Tardis. But the obvious key is to give exercises in making a real world application.
When I suggested that a student print a smartphone case, it didn’t take long for others to see a potential business. Any teacher wanting to encourage and build entrepreneurship really does need to have at the very least a basic knowledge of 3D printing but also coding, robotics, web design and game construction. It is also essential to instill in students the idea that highly successful entrepreneurs contribute to society as an active citizen.
One video from the UNSW YouTube channel, (edhq.co/1LdUe8E) can showcase for students a simple idea with a genuine social conscience. Undoubtedly the best entrepreneurial idea with a truly global perspective is the eNABLE community, which uses volunteers to 3D print prosthetic hands. You can certainly get your students involved, as I plan to do in 2016, by visiting edhq.co/1p6ktEb.
Over the next few years, employers will become increasingly focused upon the entrepreneurial skills of prospective employees. As educators it is up to us to give our students the opportunity.
I couldn’t finish without making at least passing mention of the term ‘teacherpreneur’; which in the past I’ve happily applied to myself. According to leading sites such as Edutopia, some US school districts are already creating positions for teacherpreneurs. These teachers are imaginative, creative and innovative. They are prepared to “…shake their dice, try something new, and use their skills in a different way”.
Perhaps, you could start by teaching entrepreneurship.
Simon McKenzie is an eLearning Manager at Faith Lutheran College, South Australia. Follow him on Twitter @Connectedtchr