Entrepreneurial spirit should be fuelled by enterprising education
Published in The Sunday Business Post on June 13th, 2010. By Alex Meehan
The future for entrepreneurship in Ireland looks bright, according to a new survey of secondary school students.
Of six hundred 12 to14-yearold students surveyed in the report by non-profit group Junior Achievement, three out of five said they would like to set up their own business when they were older. Two out of three said they wanted to learn more about running a business.
However, according to Della Clancy, executive director of Junior Achievement, more work will have to be done if entrepreneurial ambitions are to translate into job creation in the Irish economy.
‘‘Teaching enterprise is one of the main aims of Junior Achievement,” Clancy‘ said. ‘‘I think kids are naturally entrepreneurial, but we educate it out of them. Small children think setting up their own enterprise is wonderful – they’re terribly confident and creative – but as they get older they start to see problems, risks and downsides, so they opt for safety.”
Clancy believes the Irish education system ‘‘does not particularly reward’’ creativity or enterprise.
‘‘There’s no doubt that it rewards rote learning,” she said.
‘‘Teachers often willingly admit they are not necessarily the best people to teach enterprise – many of them went to school, then to college and then into the world of work as educators, so they don’t usually have direct experience of the business world.
‘‘It’s our experience that they welcome the world of business into their classrooms. Businesspeople can teach kids about the world of work, and can bring it alive for them.”
The Junior Achievement survey found that, despite the recession, nearly four out of five students are still confident they will be able to get the job they want when they leave school. Fewer than one in ten believe they will have to emigrate to find work.
More than nine out of ten students felt the Leaving Certificate would help them get the job they wanted, while almost all planned to stay in school to complete the Leaving. Three quarters of students plan to continue their education after school, with just under one in ten considering apprenticeships.
Clancy said this was good news for anyone concerned about the future of employment and the Irish economy generally.
‘‘The 20 per cent of children who have been leaving school without doing the Leaving face a far tougher time in the job market,” she said. ‘‘Whatever hope you have of finding and keeping a job disappears without a Leaving Cert; kids that drop out at that point in their education face a bleak future.
The world has changed, and qualifications are more important than ever. Even a primary degree is increasingly seen as a basic qualification.”
Despite the efforts of many organisations to boost students’ interest in maths, it appears that the subject still presents difficulties.
While three out of five of those surveyed felt they were good at maths, half said they didn’t enjoy the subject, and just two out of five described themselves as interested in careers involving maths, science or technology.
‘‘Maths represents a particular difficulty,” Clancy said. ‘‘If you think back to your own school experiences, if you missed a few classes here and there in a language or history class, you could catch up. But if you miss a few classes in maths covering a particular mathematical technique, it can be very difficult to catch up.
‘‘There is also definitely an attitude problem: if you decide you’re not good at maths, that you’re not a maths-type person, then you’re setting yourself up for failure.
There’s also a gender issue around maths, with research showing that girls are often afraid to outshine the boys at maths because it’s not seen as being feminine.”
Junior Achievement is currently providing programmes to 63,000 students around the country in partnership with help from 3,000 business volunteers from public and private sector organisations such as EMC2, 3M, GSK and Eircom.
Clancy believes this type of activity is crucial to fostering an enterprise culture among young people.
‘‘Enterprise education should be embedded in the system; a couple of weeks in transition year just aren’t effective in instilling an interest or appreciation of it in kids,” she said.
‘‘We’re a nation of small and medium enterprises; those companies all began in a small way, and now contribute massively to the economy.
‘‘We think we bring something very important to this entire scenario, because all our programmes are taught by people from the world of work.
They bring it alive for the kids, and that helps a lot.”