Do we really want to promote enterprise?

“How many students who participate in “enterprise activities” go on to become entrepreneurs?”

So I was asked this week. It stumped me for a while but it set off a line of thought which I wanted to explore. It seems that Enterprise in Education has been around ever since the Margaret Thatcher set up TVEI in 1982, whilst Young Enterprise goes back even further to the early 60’s. 

One of the implicit outcomes of such schemes is that they will encourage an entrepreneurial mentality and generate economic benefits to society.  However, I can find no evidence that any of these have directly resulted in more entrepreneurs or growth in the economy – although I invite anyone to correct that assertion.

Looking back over the last 20 years education has successfully turned the rather offensive idea of wealth creation into a more educationally acceptable activity which is about promoting enterprising attitudes – an outcome much more palatable to the sensitivities of those of us in education. The two graphics linked to this post perhaps characterise the fears that many teachers have had about promoting capitalism in schools, i.e. greed, selfishness and a focus on money at the expense of all else.

I wanted to consider how things might be different if we were more explicit about the outcomes of “enterprise” in schools. What if we really did encourage children to set up businesses which were focussed on making money – which the child kept? What if we found ways of supporting them with loans and advice about how to make more money from their ideas? Imagine a 13 year old who sets up her own dog walking business in a town and receives financial support and advice to get her idea off the ground.

I love the idea behind the Grameen Bank established in Bangladesh:

Grameen Bank (GB) has reversed conventional banking practice by removing the need for collateral and created a banking system based on mutual trust, accountability, participation and creativity.

Could we establish a Scottish version of such a scheme where young people could access loans to set up their own company? Could Tom Hunter take the place of Muhammad Yunus in an enterprising Scotland?

Perhaps its just me but I think such an opportunity would have excited me as a teenager.

4 thoughts on “Do we really want to promote enterprise?

  1. One of the micro-trends identified by Mark Penn in his fascinating recent book “Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Today’s Big Changes” is that of High School Moguls. This refers to a trend for young people to start running businesses while they are at school.

    Today the internet and eBay make teen entrepreneurship easier than ever … In fact, according to Business Week, as of 2000, 8 per cent of all teens – or about 1.6 million young people in the U.S. – were making money on the internet.

    He goes on to describe an example, , started by a 10-year-old girl, with her 13-year-old brother doing the web site. The founder and CEO only planned to start college last year.

    Chances are there are some examples amongst the students in East Lothian schools. Perhaps taking advantage of this trend, and supporting the process with education and web resources, could provide a rich, relevant context for curriculum developments?

  2. I had grave concerns about the business aspect of promoting enterprise in schools until I saw how my daughter’s experience translated into a real life situation. She organised a huge fundraising event almost single handedly at the age of 16 and raised £4000. She is at school now in Swaziland and is using this money for riding and guitar lessons for children orphaned by Aids and physiotherapy for a very disabled child.
    Young people need the skills to translate their desire to change the world into practicality: encouraging them to be enterprising can only be a positive step.

  3. Don, while not a supporter of the “unacceptable face of capitalism” I am not sure why wealth creation should be regarded as “an offensive idea”. How can money be spent (on education, health, etc) if it is not created? I am interested in your reference to the Grammeen Bank, and in this context your council might want to look at the work of “Wild Hearts in Action” the trading arm of the WildHearts Foundation, set up by Mick Jackson, winner of the Glenfiddoch Spirit of Scotland Award.( This is an office supplies company created to give organisations like schools and offices the ability to give money to charity without having to ‘donate’ a penny. The money raised goes to support microfinance projects in the developing world, emulating the work of Yunus, just as you describe it.

  4. David Orr, a USA based teacher and writer who advocates for eco-literacy in the curriculum, says ‘The plain fact is that the planet does not need more ‘successful’ people. But it does desparately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers – – – it needs people who live well in their places’

    He would also argue that we need to encourage a criticality of given assumptions of what is valuable and contributes bvalue to society.

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