Entrepreneurship in education is one of those phrases that often trigger assumptions, divides, and misunderstandings. Not every young person wants to be an entrepreneur, and nor should they. The path of entrepreneurship is often romanticized, and it certainly not for everyone. Some would like to be entrepreneurs, but there's no single thing they feel passionate enough about to make the leap.
Others feel that working for another company is the best way to achieve their own objectives for their own vision of what happiness and stability look like. Working in a 9 to 5 role is sometimes unfairly mischaracterized as "uncreative" or "lacking courage" compared to the entrepreneurial path. Forget the noise. It is your life, and there are many ways to live it.
The future is not going to be so binary in any case, as the children of the future will likely experience a combination of role types, moving between freelance roles, or attaching themselves to projects via a liquid working arrangement, retooling, and retraining, and generally shifting not only between roles and companies but industries and careers.
And that's why everyone should learn how to be an entrepreneur. And no, we're not contradicting ourselves here. Entrepreneurship's narrowest definition is starting a company yourself to bring an idea to life. Great, but we are talking about the broader concepts of what being an entrepreneur requires. We're not talking about education for entrepreneurship, but education through entrepreneurship. Let us explain what we mean.
Embracing uncertainty, learning to be adaptable and flexible, understanding the process of innovation, fostering challenge without equating it to judgment on your own abilities. Cognitive flexibility, creativity to drive value creation, self-reflection, and the building in of failure as a learning opportunity. These are all things that educators are now accepting as essential skills and abilities to face a world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.
The interesting thing is that entrepreneurship has been associated with these things for well over 30 years, and is already a well-developed and well-researched field in education. While thought leaders scramble to design new paradigms, and name processes or approaches to building these exact skills, we are often missing an opportunity.
Those who are teaching innovation, design thinking, and entrepreneurship in schools and universities quite commonly are not involved in bringing that learning to the transversal application; that is, across other subjects and fields.
Teachers who tend to separate the idea of entrepreneurship from what they think of as education, are often doing so because of the stigma of commercialization. The idea that entrepreneurship is about business and wealth, and this should be kept out of the heart of what education is.
This is not only misunderstanding what value creation can really be (it is certainly not only about money), but generally missing a huge opportunity.
The experts in entrepreneurial education already know how to do so much of what progressive educators are trying to build, but very often have had experiences of education that have been lacking in the very qualities they so needed to follow their own paths. We need to look at ways to bridge this gap.
Educating for entrepreneurship is something best left until later years, but education through entrepreneurship can begin in elementary school. Discovery through iteration is a fancy way of saying "play", and it is what kids do best. If only we adults could learn more from them.
We all know that experiential learning or learning by doing is one of the best ways to really understand something, and entrepreneurial education takes that one small step forward. Learning by creating value is a way of constantly keeping the social, cultural (and yes, even financial) benefits of ideas in mind. At its most simple level, value creation is meaningfulness or causing happiness in others, which is a much nicer objective for our projects than a grade on a piece of paper. There is a reason to start the process of entrepreneurial thinking much earlier on, and that reason is in the brain.
Around the age of 9 or 10, our brains change. Whereas earlier in life we could try to learn or do something new and not get it immediately, though we would likely get frustrated, we wouldn't necessarily give up, and it's less likely we would form any value judgments about ourselves as a result.
But then we develop self-consciousness, and we more keenly feel people watching and evaluating us. When we try something with a lot of effort and can't do it right away, we are more likely at that age to start to equate it with a lack of innate ability. "I'm just not good at that", we tell ourselves.
This is a critical time, and certainly not the best moment to be grading young children on results. If we are to really be ready to self-regulate as healthy adults in a complex world, we need to embrace challenging situations as the best places to learn. We need to understand that it takes time to master something, and "failure" is inevitable. It doesn't mean we shouldn't try, but that we should adjust our strategy and try again. That is at the heart of entrepreneurial education.
Embracing challenges as you try to solve a problem with creativity means learning is nonlinear. The constant process of reflection before progress will serve young people so well in later life, allowing their minds to remain cognitively flexible through top-down actions (progress journaling, mindfulness, creative reflection) and bottom-up environments (richly diverse project-based activities that are self-directed when the learner chooses the problem they want to solve). By the time our prefrontal cortex comes to maturity in our mid 20's and we have a sense of what makes you "you", the richness of your earlier experiences will have a profound impact. This is the age when most are setting off to start their careers, and having spent your formative years identifying and solving problems, learning from the joy when you achieve something through adversity, or just knowing yourself through trial and reflection; could you be better prepared for the uncertainties of the world? We don't think so.
Persuading others that your idea is a good one, and learning to accept when others tell you that they have found a flaw in your plan. Pivoting quickly to embrace a better idea, and developing a sense of who you work best with to achieve your goals. Pursuing self-chosen projects rather than inauthentic textbook-based one-size-fits-all versions, so that the joy of success is long-lasting and forms an emotional memory you won't forget.
A huge range of "subjects" can be drawn on to address a single project. To create a new menu for the school cafe means maths to calculate costs, biology for nutrition, persuasiveness to make it happen, design skills to make the menu look appealing, and on it goes. Sounds like Project-Based Learning? It is, but add in the value creation aspect as an integral part, and some design thinking and interaction with experts in the "outside world" and you have an entrepreneurial approach.
The OECD found that, though much of the research is still in its infancy about embedding entrepreneurial education in elementary and high schools, it was still "extremely promising".
We seem to be trying to equip the children of the future with the very skills and competencies that entrepreneurship education is also focusing on. We have well-evidenced processes and approaches in entrepreneurial education, but yet still need to build evidence about the impact of a transversal, learner-directed approach to education, before the traditional modes will let go of the reins.
The sooner we build on what we already know and can prove, the better it will be for everyone. Embedding entrepreneurial approaches in education makes a lot of sense, and what our children of the future do with those skills and insights, is entirely up to them.