Teaching and Facilitating Entrepreneurship in the School Setting
I grew up in a family where my grandfathers and father were entrepreneurs – they started and ran their own businesses. My paternal grandfather, as a young man, bought a small vacuum cleaner sales store and later, changed it to selling entertainment electronics. Later, with my father, they moved to a larger space with increased inventory. A smaller store was opened in a a town nearby where I was a sales clerk during my teenage years. Their small business was a financial success as it supported our families with a strong middle class lifestyle for close to fifty years. I rejected this entrepreneurship spirit. Making money never interested me (I am a teacher, for gosh sake).
Fast forward to last year – I had the privilege of visiting Blanche Kelso Bruce Academy (BKBA) in Detroit and spending some time with its superintendent, Blair Evans. Mr. Evans demonstrated the school’s digital fabrication program and explained their permaculture program. I was impressed with these real-life skills building programs, but what resonated with me was what he said about educating the poor Detroit youth. He said that poor communities are very dependent on purchasing goods and services from sources outside of their communities. They lacked the awareness, skills, and where-with-all related to producing services and products for themselves. The goal is for the youth learn some skills, such as growing their own food or producing their own products, to establish some self-sufficiency.
This is reinforced by Steve Mariotti, founder of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), an expert in education for at-risk youth.
As an educator of at-risk youth for over thirty years, I’ve seen only one thing consistently bring children raised in poverty into the middle class: entrepreneurship education. Owner-entrepreneurship education empowers young people to make well-informed decisions about their future, whether they choose to become entrepreneurs or not. Our students discover that, like every individual, they already own five powerful assets: time, talent, attitude, energy and unique knowledge of one’s local market. They learn to use these assets to create businesses and jobs, and build wealth in their communities. I’ve seen apathetic kids whose families have been on welfare for generations get excited about school and their futures. They discover that they can participate in our economy and earn money. They quickly realize that to do so, they must to learn to read, write and do math. (Why Every School in America Should Teach Entrepreneurship)
This had me thinking of lessons I learned growing up in family focused on entrepreneurship. I learned customer service, the ethics being in business (and then ethics, in general), focusing on being the best while not worrying about the other “guy” while you do, and the skills-motivation to go after what I need and want. None of these lessons focuses directly on making money.
Because of my visit to BKBA and reflecting on my family’s business, I moved from an attitude of rejecting entrepreneurship (thinking it was about working for money) in formal education to being an advocate as I realized all of the life skills it can teach and reinforce.
Through entrepreneurship education, young people learn organizational skills, including time management, leadership development and interpersonal skills, all of which are highly transferable skills sought by employers. According to a report by the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Corporation, other positive outcomes include:
- improved academic performance, school attendance; and educational attainment
- increased problem-solving and decision-making abilities
- improved interpersonal relationships, teamwork, money management, and public speaking skills
- job readiness
- enhanced social psychological development (self-esteem, ego development, self-efficacy), and
- perceived improved health status (http://www.dol.gov/odep/pubs/fact/entrepreneurship.htm)
Yong Zhao in his book, World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students, proposes that learner entrepreneurship should be integrated into school curriculum due to the following:
- Massive changes brought about by population growth, technology, and globalization not only demand but also create opportunities for “mass entrepreneurship” and thus require everyone to be globally minded, creative, and entrepreneurial. Entrepreneurship is no longer limited to starting or owning a business, but is expanded to social entrepreneurship, policy entrepreneurship, and intrapreneurship.
- Traditional schooling aims to prepare employees rather than creative entrepreneurs. As a result the more successful traditional schooling is (often measured by test scores in a few subjects), the more it stifles creativity and the entrepreneurial spirit.
- To cultivate creative and entrepreneurial talents is much more than adding an entrepreneurship course or program to the curriculum. It requires a paradigm shift—from employee-oriented education to entrepreneur-oriented education, from prescribing children’s education to supporting their learning, and from reducing human diversity to a few employable skills to enhancing individual talents.
- The elements of entrepreneur-oriented education have been proposed and practiced by various education leaders and institutions for a long time but they have largely remained on the fringe. What we need to do is to move them to the mainstream for all children.
More simple, Blair Evans of BKBA stated, “We’re building people, not just products. We get better outcomes if the kids can engage in useful work. This is much more effective than having them sit on a couch and talk. (Fab Lab: The DIY Factory That Can Make Anyone a Maker)
Raleigh Werberger, a high school history and humanities teacher in Hawaii, got inspired by Zhao’s book. He and his colleagues wanted to develop a ninth grade curriculum that was not only focused on project-based learning, but also wanted to encourage “an authentic, self-starting kind of drive — the sort of thing we see when kids are playing sports, making music, or doing anything that stems from personal passion — in other words, the internal desire to continually improve and to work hard at doing it.”
Students are working in teams to design and construct a small table- or desk-top aquaponics system for the home, and then market their product. In other words, we are blending academics and entrepreneurialism and challenging students to make Hawai’i’s growth more environmentally sustainable.
They are competing to present the best designs – scientifically, educationally and aesthetically – but also the best PR and marketing strategies. On Monday, April 22nd, 2013, they will present their designs and pitches to a team of experts – similar to the ABC show Shark Tank http://mpx9spring.weebly.com/aquaponics-home.html
More remarkably, this project even changed how they used their free time. I saw our students enrolling in online courses in either website or business development. Their social media use took on more significance and had a more authentic stake for them, as students began communicating with web journals and community organizations to expand their online presence and gain “endorsements” for their products. Eventually, their work became polished enough to attract the interest of a few local entrepreneurs who volunteered not only to teach them business skills, but also to host a Shark Tank event and bankroll the winners. While only one team won, the other teams vowed to continue developing their ideas and seek their own independent funding. They had redefined success as not necessarily getting A’s or passing the class, but as refusing to take no for an answer. (Using Entrepreneurship to Transform Student Work)
Finally, there is a current push for bringing Maker Education into the classroom. Making and entrepreneurship go hand-in-hand. Recently, President Obama to hosted the first-ever White House maker faire where the theme was A Nation of Makers: Empowering America’s Students and Entrepreneurs to Invent the Future.
America has always been a nation of tinkerers, inventors, and entrepreneurs. In recent years, a growing number of Americans have gained access to technologies such as 3D printers, laser cutters, easy-to-use design software, and desktop machine tools, with even more being created by the day. These tools are enabling more Americans to design and build almost anything.
The rise of the Maker Movement represents a huge opportunity for the United States. Nationwide, new tools for democratized production are boosting innovation and entrepreneurship in manufacturing, in the same way that the Internet and cloud computing have lowered the barriers to entry for digital startups, creating the foundation for new products and processes that can help to revitalize American manufacturing. (President Obama to Host First-Ever White House Maker Faire)
Additional Resources for bringing entrepreneurship into the classroom:
- Entrepreneur-in-the-Classroom (EITC) Programs
- Entrepreneurship Classroom Activities
- 50 Ideas for Bringing Entrepreneurship Into the Classroom