Entrepreneurship is recognised as a driving force for growth and success. But if we understand it to be a mindset, an ethos, how can we teach people to be entrepreneurs, and what are the positive outcomes of so doing? Margie Worthington-Smith, MD of the South African Institute for Entrepreneurship, presents a refreshing philosophy.
Turning teaching on its head
Entrepreneurship is not science. Rather, it cuts across all sectors and all subjects. It is a value system, a life skill. Where traditional subjects like maths, science and geography tend to be removed from the learner’s real-life experiences, entrepreneurship presents the wonderful chance to turn traditional teaching on its head – bringing the real world, with its wealth of opportunities, into the classroom.
Our traditional teaching methods don’t stimulate real student interest or encourage real learning; they merely manage large groups of rowdy children in regimented rows. The teacher is the oracle – the fount of all knowledge and the ultimate authority tasked to ask questions in the hope of catching out ignorant learners.
But in a world overflowing with information, this is no way to produce entrepreneurs; it is a system set up to fail. How then should we be preparing our youth?
Using top tools to discover and experience entrepreneurship
At the South African Institute for Entrepreneurship, we firmly believe we need to start by treating learners – all learners – as responsible, intelligent citizens. Let them value differences rather than uniformity; let them learn to ask the questions rather than spewing answers learned by rote; let them work together in teams rather than struggle on their own. And why not make the quality of the learning materials so appealingly in line with the real world that learners can’t wait to get to class – full-colour, laminated, high quality materials that they can use over and over?
Climbing into the saddle
Our Business VENTURES programme places the learner at the centre of the search for information – through questioning, discovery learning, listening to peers’ views, and putting learning into practice by ‘doing’. Teachers are the facilitators. The resources guide them and provide the support materials to turn learners into entrepreneurs. In this way, real outcomes are achieved rather than theories remembered.
Relevant content, practical methodologies and effective logistics – facilitated with confidence – ensure enthusiastic learning. Students come to class voluntarily. Teachers overcome their worries about new curricula and unfamiliar teaching methods.
And the outcome is crucial: higher quality teaching and more relevant learning. Students have more functional knowledge, carefully stored for use in later life by virtue of having performed practical tasks, rather than learning words – much like the difference between learning to ride a bicycle by reading the manual rather versus actually climbing into the saddle.
Long-term rewards for investing in our future income earners
The South African Institute for Entrepreneurship is using this teaching approach to great effect. Already 4,000 Business VENTURES programmes are being used in schools around the country, and the programme is beginning to bear fruit. It’s early days yet, but our research in the Eastern Cape alone has shown that 39 percent of learners have engaged in entrepreneurial activities.
Our collective vision should be to invest in our learners by teaching them to think like entrepreneurs from as young as seven – an investment that makes them competent students and gives them lifelong tools; one that turns them into entrepreneurs or ‘intrapreneurial’ workers. That way, surely, we’ll be well set for a sustainable and growing economy.
South African Institute for Entrepreneurship