Scotland went to the heart of Europe last week, taking some schools along to Berlin to showcase their work on enterprise education.
The occasion was a seminar to show how Scottish schools are attempting to make pupils "employable", one of the key themes of Britain's six-month presidency of the European Union which begins in January and is being officially launched today by the Prime Minister.
The seminar, attended by representatives of education, business and public agencies, was the climax of a Scottish week held in the new German capital. Pupils and staff from three schools were flown out to the event, organised by the British Embassy, Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum.
Gordon McVie, from the skills development division of Scottish Enterprise, says there has been extensive interest shown by other European countries in what they see as pioneering efforts to promote enterprise education in Scotland. "Without blowing our own trumpet, we are very much ahead of the game in this area," he said.
This was confirmed by Volker Raddatz, a lecturer at Humboldt University in Berlin, who said that in terms of enterprise education "Germany is still a developing country." He blamed the strong distinctions between academic and vocational education which had led universities to believe that "you actually do damage to the university if you do applied work".
Scotland's pre-eminence is reflected in the work of Young Enterprise Scotland, the general programme for upper secondary, which has 60 per cent of secondaries involved in running 300 companies with a throughput of 4,500 young people each year - said to be the highest penetration in Europe. The schools enterprise programme, which uniquely in Scotland extends to infants, has a whole trained 2,200 teachers in enterprise education, close to the target of having at least one trained teacher per school.
Political blessing for a major drive to embed enterprise education in the curriculum has now come from New Labour. In a speech last month launching a number of initiatives to promote education for work, Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, announced that the various school, college and university activities in this field would be developed by a single Centre for Enterprise Education at Jordanhill, another international first. Mr McVie is associate director.
The schools who visited Germany last week are paired with others in the Brandenburg area of the former East Germany in the Achievers' International programme. This takes enterprise education a stage further by encouraging senior pupils to form companies importing and exporting products, learning key skills along the way. Pupils from both countries addressed the seminar, communication and confidence-building being among those key skills.
Achievers International actually began in Ayrshire as a link with schools in Georgia, USA, backed by the local enterprise company and the local managers of the Royal Bank of Scotland, British Telecom and Marks and Spencer. It is now subscribed to by 150 schools in 14 countries and the aim is to have 1,000 British schools involved by the year 2000 with 1,000 overseas partner schools, running businesses which would represent a turnover of Pounds 1.5 million.
The venture "presses a lot of the right buttons at the same time," Mr McVie says. The schools use video-conferencing to talk to their counterparts, find out about the running of businesses, become familiar with international trade, improve their communication and problem-solving, and learn about other countries.
Christine McLachlan of Dalziel High in Motherwell, whose company exports a number of tartan and Celtic accessories, says the experience has been "very enjoyable," particularly in building presentational skills, working as a team and having contact with other countries (her school is linked to Wandlitz Gymnasium near Berlin).
Lorna Hanley of Port Glasgow High, who also attended the conference, agreed that the attraction of Achievers International was in learning about other countries and meeting new people as well as "the business side of things".
Christine and fellow Motherwell sixth-year pupil Gordon Murray said setting up their company - one of three at Dalziel which involves 50 pupils out of 295 in the fifth and sixth year compared with 15 six years ago - made them realise how difficult it is to get things off the ground. "We're always having to chase people for money," Christine said.
The Dalziel pupils sat down and selected their roles in the company, which forced them to decide on and play to their strengths. It was surprising how little disagreement there was, according to Christine.
The programme is clearly attractive to youngsters with a career game plan in business: Christine, the "finance director", wants to do accountancy with a foreign language (she already has Higher French and Italian and is taking SYS Italian), for example, while Gordon, the "import director", intends to go into retail management.
But pupils have also found benefits in being able to develop not just the core skills of communication, numeracy, IT and personal qualities but also what Mr McVie describes as "key attributes" necessary to become effective in a wide range of settings. These would include creativity, initiative, decision-making, a capacity to learn and a "can do" attitude.
This was very evident in the experience of Port Glasgow High, whose young team of Lorna Hanley and Kimberly McKillop, discovered only days before that they were to travel to Germany. Part of their learning experience was raising the money which, Lorna says, was more difficult with the large local employers than the smaller businesses. They finally succeeded in arranging a loan which they now have the challenge of repaying. But neither Lorna nor Kimberly is contemplating a business career.
This does not bother Brian Twiddle. He embodies the Scottish approach in that he doubles as director of the Centre for Enterprise Education and director of the primary BEd course at Jordanhill, enabling him to play a key role in providing enterprise education in initial teacher training and in-service.
He stresses that the whole idea of these programmes is to reinforce core skills.
"We don't want to make every single child an entrepreneur but we do want to give them the opportunity, making it an option instead of something they would never consider," he says.
He believes in starting early and has contributed to a book for infants, The Circus Comes To Town, sponsored by Scottish Enterprise and the Bank of Scotland. The scenario is of children deciding to mount their own circus because the one due in town has been cancelled. The story-line then deals with market research, fund-raising, advertising, production - an everyday story of circus folk.
"Children can do all this at a very early age which they can then build on at a later stage," Mr Twiddle says.