Education brunch

Education as Entrepreneurship

09. July 2011 by Basti Hirsch

Imagine this situation: A teacher calls upon one of its perennially worst students for an oral exam. Dissatisfied with the student's answers, he assigns the worst grade in the German system (one being best, six being worst) and lets them sit down again after the appropriate amount of public humiliation: “Sit down, six!” is not only a decade-old idiom in German education, but also part of a recurring nightmare for many.

Now imagine another situation: Fully interested in the students' potential and working in a quite different school system, a teacher is able to see all their students as changemakers and supports their learning and development with that goal. An idiom they might use when seeing an entrepreneurial talent: “Get up, start up!”

Last weekend playDUcation hosted an education brunch with a thematic focus on entrepreneurship. We invited school leaders, social entrepreneurs, startup founders, and a diverse group of friends to sit around our table and share brunch with us. New friends were made, and for four hours we talked about little else but about education as entrepreneurship.

Bianca and Lina

Our basic premise was that a child’s way of seeing the world, of questioning, conquering is similar to that of an entrepreneur. Both approach the existing reality with a sense of wonder: Why is this so and not different?

Entrepreneurs question why certain needs are not met. They ask why some products are so pricy. They imagine new uses, new markets, a new world. Children too have a great sense of imagination. Schumpeter described entrepreneurial activity as acts of creative destruction. It’s a term that surely resonates with the experience of most parents.

Yet many children lose their innate initiative as they get older. As they finish or drop out of their education, a lot of our youth feel exactly the same as Dave and his friends in the video below: helpless, frustrated, and with a lack of perspective. How can educators develop entrepreneurial talent, rather than bury it?

We think the problem lies with teachers. There are of course those with an entrepreneurial streak, but the majority chose their profession because they don’t have it. They desired a stable job, eschewed the uncertainties of the market. Most of them finished school, went to university, and then returned back to school. The educational environment is where they feel most comfortable.

This is fine, of course, however not very entrepreneurial. And it’s quite different from the projected careers of our youth, were changing jobs and switching industries will become ever more widespread. So when the typical educator talks about entrepreneurship, there is a strange disconnect.

Dennis at our education brunch

The solution: Bake sales?

Entrepreneurial activity still has a place in schools: There’s the official bake sale, and there’s the shadow economy: Kids selling homework. A price gets established. Comparative advantages are being played out. Money changes hands. But we don’t condone this of course.

So if it’s neither educators themselves nor kids on their own initiative, let’s look outside the walls of the classroom. There are many initiatives that partner with schools to introduce kids to the ideas of social and business entrepreneurship. Some of these target only the best schools, the most promising students. Much like teachers they overlook that entrepreneurial talent doesn’t equate success in school.

This should change. All schools should get in touch with authentic entrepreneurs, from their community and beyond. Many elder entrepreneurs are happy to share their expertise, would be glad to mentor the up and coming.

When we go beyond the bake sale, we can create spaces where real expertise meets raw talent. Spaces where entrepreneurial talent is developed. And classrooms where a new mantra is heard: “Get up, start up!”

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