Advancing Entrepreneurship Education in Schools

KIZITO OKECHUKWU | AUGUST 20, 2018

Five Nigerian School girls that represented Africa at the Innovation competition at Silicon Valley – Photo Credit: https://guardian.ng 

Entrepreneurs are undoubtedly the engine of any country’s economy. Yet they’re not born, but rather made by the contingencies of their environment, one which is characterised by the agents of socialisation and plays an impactful role in developing the next generation of start-ups.

The government, religious entities, local communities and, most importantly, family and especially schools are all collectively crucial to develop sustainable future entrepreneurs. They should help mould young, innovative minds into becoming valuable, contributory members of society by equipping them with the supportive knowledge, skills, resilience and confidence at the early stages of development, in order to start and grow a business.

With this is mind, entrepreneurship education is now becoming more and more important in the global economy. Many years ago, entrepreneurship education might not have been taken seriously, but there is no doubt that it has always existed in some form or another, often in a subtle way.

For example, in the 90’s when I was in high school, my parents gave me energy drinks, snacks and food. I liked a different type of snack that was sold in the school canteen and I recall selling my own snack to a classmate and using the money to buy what I wanted, rather than what my parents gave me. Unbeknown to me, I was educating myself on entrepreneurship. Today, in many schools, young people buy and sell various products with each other.

According to Erasmus, Loedoff, Mda and Nel (2006), entrepreneurship education is a structured formal conveyance of entrepreneurial competencies, which in turn refers to the concepts, skills and mental awareness used by individuals during the process of starting and developing their growth-orientated business ventures.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas Friedman advocates for inspiring young people to create the companies that will provide long-lasting employment for the country’s citizens. Because the jobs on which the 65 year-old Friedman’s own generation relied are no longer available, he advocates for having students graduate high school “innovation-ready”, meaning that along with their certificates, they receive the critical thinking, communication and collaboration skills that will help them invent their own careers. I believe his theory holds true for – and in, any country. Over the year, we have been a big advocate of entrepreneurial education, going to various township schools with some of our experts who apply the design thinking methodology in prompting a different kind of thinking amongst pupils.

The European Situation

With the European Commission’s Entrepreneurship initiatives, schools are becoming more and more responsible for developing what is both a mind-set and a skill. Erasmus+ projects play a part by making sure that educational staff are equipped with the knowledge, teaching materials and methodologies they need.

The Perspective Project has created Europe-wide models of entrepreneurship education so that teachers of all subjects can make it part of their teaching. Maria Brizi, the Coordinator of the Perspective Project, says that European funding has allowed them to introduce new approaches, promoting entrepreneurship as a set of skills, knowledge and attitudes that will support pupils to be creative, responsive and successful in whatever activity they undertake, regardless of their career choices.

The YES mobility project has allowed a Croatian school to develop a new programme for teaching entrepreneurship by developing the competences of its whole educational team, from the headmaster to the school librarian, including math, language or craft teachers.

The African Situation

As we know, our continent is home to a large number of young people and it simply doesn’t have jobs for them all, making youth unemployment a major concern. Some countries, like Nigeria and Kenya, are tackling this problem by equipping children with entrepreneurial skills while they’re still at school. These include essential foundational knowledge, such as emotional intelligence and risk taking; it also develops their appreciation for self-employment opportunities. This means that if they find themselves in a situation where they are unemployed, they don’t give up and succumb to self-pity. Instead, they are able to use their skills to create new opportunities as entrepreneurs.

South Africa is also playing its part. Addressing the Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC) in 2017, then Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, now President of South Africa, said that “There is much more we can do, entrepreneurship must be part of the school curriculum, so that young people must, from an early age, be encouraged to be problem solvers.” He added that the inclusion would also ensure that more job creators, rather than job seekers, were developed and that entrepreneurship would be seen as a viable career option. The Gauteng Department of Education through its MEC Panyaza Lesufi is also advocating the entrepreneurial mindset agenda in various Gauteng schools. I have also heard the Minister of Small Business Development Lindiwe Zulu in various platforms where she advocates for entrepreneurial education in schools.

Recently, the Chartwell Leadership Primary school in South Africa, led by Principal Simon White, hosted a number of school teachers, learners and ecosystem stakeholders, which included the Department of Basic Education, the Director General of Small Business Development, as well as other champions of entrepreneurial education, such as Junior Achievement South Africa and Primestars. Held at the 22 on Sloane start-up campus, the two-day workshop focused on what the future skills force will look like and how do young school-goers gear themselves up for this exciting challenge. It was extremely impressive to witness many bright South Africa young minds presenting their various innovative ideas, proof that Africa remains bedrock of innovation.

Adding official testimony to the above, is the recent prestigious award received by five schoolgirls representing Africa and Nigeria at the World Technovation Challenge, held in Silicon Valley, USA, the global birthplace and home of innovation.

Amidst fierce competition from the USA, Spain, Turkey, Uzbekistan and China, the team, led by Uchenna Onwuamaegbu Ugwu, took the gold medal for their mobile app called the FD-Detector, which they developed to help tackle the challenge of fake pharmaceutical products in Nigeria. Now known as “Africa’s Golden Girls”, the team comprises Promise Nnalue, Jessica Osita, Nwabuaku Ossai, Adaeze Onuigbo and Vivian Okoye.

The true value of entrepreneurship education is that it benefits students from all socio-economic backgrounds because it teaches kids to think outside the box and nurtures unconventional talents and skills. Furthermore, it creates opportunity, ensures social justice, instils confidence and stimulates the economy. Sure, inculcating a culture of entrepreneurship won’t instantly wipe away youth unemployment. But it can reduce unemployment by giving young people the skills they need to create their own businesses and generate work for themselves or others outside the formal job market.

I believe that South Africa and Nigeria are powerfully poised to revolutionise and champion Africa’s entrepreneurial education agenda, alongside all their continental counterparts.

Kizito Okechukwu is the co-chairperson of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) Africa; 22 on Sloane is Africa’s largest start-up campus

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