Tuesday 22 September 2020 4:59 am

Entrepreneurship can be taught – so why don't we teach it more?

Sam Dumitriu is research director at The Entrepreneurs Network.

It is hard to think of a tougher task than teaching school children remotely. Until this month’s return to the classroom, schools across the country have been forced to adapt these challenging circumstances.

Not everything has worked out, but projects such as Oak National Academy thousands of free online lessons show the potential for innovation in education.

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While the method of delivery may have undergone a revolution, some aspects of the education system are still stuck in bygone eras. Cultural shifts have led young people to seek out self-employment and entrepreneurship. 

At the same time technological shifts have disrupted old industries and created new business opportunities. Yet schools still devote little time to self-employment and entrepreneurship.

This is not to say we need a total overhaul of the curriculum. But there is an untapped opportunity to meet this new demand from students by expanding access to entrepreneurship education.

Not every student will start a $1 trillion, tech business but most could benefit from adopting a more entrepreneurial mindset. Success in the information economy depends not just on what you know, but what you can find out. The ability to stick at a problem, work independently, and seek out creative solutions will be valuable in all careers.

This raises the question: even if we wanted to teach entrepreneurship, can we? Some argue entrepreneurship is innate, a matter of genetics. Others favour learning by doing. They argue there is no substitute for hands-on experience.

There is an element of truth to both suggestions. Not everyone is born with the same aptitude for entrepreneurship, and hands-on experience is valuable, but as I argue in a new report commissioned by awarding body ABE, research shows that entrepreneurship education can improve employability, lead to new business creation, and increase the chance that the business will be successful.

Take Young Enterprise’s Company Programme, one of the programmes I looked at in the report. The most widely taught school-based entrepreneurship programme in the world. Students taking part go through the process of starting a business from idea to liquidation. It is a scheme that has been running for a century and there is evidence it works.

Researchers checked up on students who had taken part over a decade later, and compared them to similar students who did not take part. They found students were more likely to be in leadership positions at work and less likely to be unemployed.

Unsurprisingly, they were more likely to start businesses. Those that had started business earned around 10 per cent more from entrepreneurship compared to students who did not take part in school.

At the moment, entrepreneurship education has traditionally taken place at universities and business schools, but there is a case for acting earlier.

Studies on children as young as eleven show that exposure to entrepreneurship can shift mentalities and impart personality traits that are essential to entrepreneurship. We tend to get stuck in our ways, so if our aim is not just to share know-how, but to change mindsets too, then it makes sense to start early.

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Schools will also need to be more willing to cooperate with the private and not-for-profit sectors. Many of the most successful programmes bring in experts from business to provide mentoring support. Advice will always be more compelling when it comes from people who walk the walk.

As kids return to the classroom, schools need to re-apply the spirit of innovation that got them through the pandemic. To prepare young people to succeed in the modern world of work and help them pursue their ambitions of working for themselves, it is time to expose every student to entrepreneurship.

Sam Dumitriu is Research Director at The Entrepreneurs Network.

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