Teaching kids to be business savvy
One of the best reports I read this summer - about students from age 10 being taught business and economics under the proposed national curriculum – received scant coverage. Nobody seemed terribly excited by the idea, even though teaching primary school kids about business is brilliant.
I have long argued we need to teach entrepreneurship at schools. Predictably, the draft shape of economics and business in the national school curriculum, from the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, focuses more on general understanding of business and economics.
It’s a good start, but I’d argue that encouraging kids in years five and six to be creative and dream about solutions to big problems is far better than teaching mostly general business and economic issues.
Don’t get me wrong: learning about general business issues and the economy is important. I studied economics at school and university and found it a great way to learn about the interaction of trends.
And I don’t suggest we educate 10-year-olds on how to start an entrepreneurial venture, risk everything on a lemonade stand, or punt on mining stocks. Instead, we should encourage older primary school kids to be creative in a business context and teach them core creativity concepts.
In secondary school, the focus could swing from business creativity to innovation, where students are encouraged to turn ideas into actual products or services that solve problems. A focus on not-for-profit ideas that help build a better planet would be especially popular.
In university, the focus could move from innovation to entrepreneurship, with students taught skills to commercialise an idea and start and grow a venture. Even better would be teaching entrepreneurship much more at TAFEs, so that students can learn practical business skills rather than theory.
What’s your view?
- Should we teach business subjects much earlier at school?
- What are the benefits and risks?
- Should we teach entrepreneurship at schools?
- Should more school help students develop skills to create their first job?
Over time, that approach would do more to unlock and encourage a new generation of innovators and entrepreneurs than any subjects on accounting, economics and general business ever would. It could be one of several initiatives that helps Australia become more innovative and entrepreneurial.
Teaching entrepreneurship at school would also develop a culture of students creating their jobs rather than only applying for them. As more people work for themselves in one way or another, in coming decades, young people will need skills to build their jobs. Yet our education systems all seem geared to giving people the skills and qualifications to work in big companies, rather than create new companies.
Most of all, teaching entrepreneurship (or business creativity or innovation) at school would encourage naturally creative kids who often struggle with formal learning systems.
It would help stop kids who are born innovators and business owners wasting years at university because somebody told them you need a degree to be successful, getting a huge student debt, not finding a decent job, or being bored beyond their wits in a corporate job.
I had the privilege of teaching entrepreneurship to 180 fresh-faced university students last year. One of my top students struggled through school, struggled to get a high enough grade to get into university, struggled with other university subjects, and thought about dropping out. Yet he blitzed the entrepreneurship program after developing several eye-catching business ideas.
It was the first time any subject had encouraged him to be highly creative in a business context, and rewarded him on the strength and presentation of his venture ideas, rather than on regurgitating facts, and theories from a textbook and sitting an exam. He now wants to work in a start-up venture.
Other students came alive at the prospect of creating start-up ventures, and some said they wished they had been exposed to such subjects much earlier. Of the 180 individual business presentations, and about 40 group ones, I saw at least a dozen genuinely good, commercial ideas.
When you see young people dripping with business creativity, you wonder why we thrust general business subjects on them – and do not focus more on business creation. You wonder why we don’t encourage young people to start ventures when they are at their most creative, and able to take greater risks because they have more time to recover from failures along the way.
You might ask why Australia does not do so much more to develop the next generation of business creators, innovators and entrepreneurs, much earlier through its education systems. And why we don’t publicise more case studies of outstanding twentysomething entrepreneurs, to encourage other teenagers to follow their dream, start a for-profit or not-for-profit venture, and make a difference.
By the way, I don’t for a minute buy the line that entrepreneurship cannot be taught. Everybody can learn skills that develop their natural gifts. Entrepreneurship is like any other discipline; if you have no natural skill or interest in it, you will never be at good at it.
I hope our national curriculum thinks about differences between entrepreneurship and general business and that more schools incorporate business-creation concepts into their subjects.
Sadly, it looks like we’ll just keep educating kids mostly for big business careers, when many corporate jobs will no longer exist in coming decades, and other countries will have done far more to develop young entrepreneurs through their education systems.