It is now official: Scotland is in recession for the first time in 20 years. While newspaper headlines cry out for immediate action, the Scottish Executive is holding to its long-term strategy, articulated earlier this year, of investing in education and science and fostering an entrepreneurial culture among the young.
The flood of foreign investment that made Scotland's economy flourish in the 1990s has subsided, so now building prosperity out of home-grown talent is an important pursuit. Scotland is not alone in this: witness the adoption of similar strategies by small economies from the Baltic Sea to the South Pacific. Where Scotland can legitimately claim a modest lead is in its Schools Enterprise Programme, which is being managed by Careers Scotland.
"This is a world first," says entrepreneur Tom Hunter, whose vision and commitment last year persuaded the Executive and Scottish business community to back the primary schools programme with pound;5 million. "We are the first nation in the world that has a public-private enterprise initiative in our primary schools."
The target of the initiative, which was rolled out a year ago with funding for three years, is to provide every primary pupil in Scotland with the opportunity to participate in at least two enterprise activities linked to the curriculum by the end of their primary education. The project is deploying resources that give even infants a taste for generating business ideas and making money.
"We need to start young to enthuse our children with optimism about what they can achieve in life," said Wendy Alexander, the Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning at the time.
However, Sarah Hall, the SEP national project manager, says it is not mainly about producing and delivering resources. "It is about creating the right structure and conditions to support teachers in their efforts to change young people's attitudes to enterprise."
The key component, which distinguishes the programme from earlier, less focused, national initiatives while helping to build on the good practices these generated, is the appointment and training of enterprise education support officers, one for every education authority. Crucially, these posts have been filled from the ranks of teachers, which has helped to minimise friction between the worlds of business and education during the first year of the programme.
The enterprise education support officer for Shetland, Beryl Smith, says:
"I've already done a fair bit of enterprise education, but that isn't the case with a lot of the EESOs, so training is important.
"First we got a couple of days on how we, as teachers, could use the two packs - Enterprising Infants for P1-P3 and Go for Enterprise for P4-P7 - produced by the National Centre: Education for Work and Enterprise. Then we studied what help teachers would need from us; and that was followed by an evaluation session that set the agenda for future training."
"When we began training the EESOs," says Ms Hall, "I don't think we appreciated just how much teachers learn from sharing their experiences and successes with each other. So at first we maybe had too many people talking at them. We've tried to learn from that in the training we have organised since."
One aspect in which more training was requested and delivered was in using the website created by the SEP and launched by the First Minister, Jack McConnell, in May. Its purpose, he said, was to "help budding business brains I unlock the secrets of enterprise, learn from their successes and mistakes and, above all, discover that enterprise can be fun."
Early indications are that some pupils and EESOs are using the site and talking about their enterprise activities in the chatroom, but few practising teachers are. The hope is that this will change.
Yet, the task facing EESOs in persuading schools of the merits of enterprise education is not insubstantial. No one is obliged to use anything the SEP is offering and enterprise education is still sometimes seen as an unwanted addition to an overcrowded curriculum.
"Some teachers feel they are doing enough already," says Ms Smith, "and some heads may not be as enthusiastic as their staff. On the other hand, in Shetland we've already exceeded the targets set by the SEP management."
One of the most striking features of education for work and enterprise - both before and since 1997, when it began to get strong Government backing - has always been the variation among schools and teachers in enthusiasm for it. The consequences, said HM inspectors in their report Education for Work in Schools (published in 2000), include "lack of coherence, confusion among pupils and staff, and the vulnerability of some activities which were heavily dependent on one member of staff".
It would be unfair to expect the SEP to cure all the ills, particularly since enterprise is just one component of the education for work and enterprise agenda. However, after one year, the impact of the open and responsive SEP management, the EESOs and the powerful support of the Scottish Executive and business community points to the Schools Enterprise Programme significantly improving attitudes to enterprise in primary schools.
Attitudes do need to change. A greater percentage of people in Scotland than anywhere else in the developed world say fear of failure would stop them setting up their own businesses. Scots regularly rate lawyers, bus drivers and plumbers - occasionally even teachers - as more valuable members of society than the entrepreneurs so badly needed to sustain a thriving national economy.
What will happen at the end of the programme's three years - when financial support from the business community is withdrawn - may or may not become clearer when the review group on education for work and enterprise, chaired by Deputy Education Minister Nicol Stephen, publishes its findings in the next month.
In the meantime, the largest chunk of the programme's three-year budget of pound;2.5 million from the Scottish Executive (enterprise, transport and lifelong learning department) and pound;2.5 million from the business community, through Schools Enterprise Scotland, is being spent on the training and salaries of the 32 enterprise education support officers, but the project has a number of other important components.
"It is supposed to be 5-14, but the focus until now has been mainly primary schools," says Ms Hall. "So we have commissioned materials for S1 and 2. These are about to be piloted in five authorities.
"I am also looking at what we can provide for children with special educational needs."
Two university projects are also being funded by the SEP: one at Warwick University, to evaluate the training of EESOs; the other has a more research oriented remit "to ascertain the educational and economic benefits of enterprise education", which is being carried out by a team led by Douglas Weir at the University of Strathclyde.
"We are looking for changes in attitude, behaviour, perception and ability over the three years that might be due to the young people's involvement in enterprise projects," says Professor Weir. "Our first data gathering exercise in June gave us the baseline, so it's too early to talk about findings.
"One thing I have noticed, however, is the influence of the family on primary schoolchildren. When you ask them about role models you get a few teachers and the usual names from sport and pop music, but the biggest influence by far is family members. I don't think there were any entrepreneurs.
"Because we are dealing with a complex set of concepts, it took some time to figure out our methodology but I think one of the best decisions we made was to look at enterprise education through the eyes of the youngsters. The next three years will be fascinating. We are going to learn a lot about the effects of enterprise education on young people."
SCHOOLS ENTERPRISE PROGRAMME TARGETS
* At least one primary school identified in each area as an exemplar in developing an enterprising school. March 2002
* At least 50 per cent of primary schools with two teachers trained in enterprise education. June 2002
* At least 30 per cent of primaries to have undertaken at least one enterprise activity in the preceding 12 months. June 2002 Year 2
* Every primary and secondary school to have at least two teachers trained in enterprise education. June 2003
* At least 60 per cent of schools to have undertaken at least one enterprise activity in the preceding 12 months. June 2003
* At least 30 per cent of schools to have undertaken two enterprise activities in the preceding 12 months. June 2003 Year 3
* All schools to have the capability to provide every pupil with at least two enterprise activities. June 2004.
* Every school using enterprise education as an approach to teaching. June 2004
* At least 5 per cent of schools contributing to a bank of good practice. June 2004
* All schools to have plans in place to provide pupils with at least two enterprise experiences. June 2004