All aboard the enterprise ship

29th September 2006 at 01:00
Estonian teachers dropped in on West Lothian for a two-way learning experience, writes Miranda Fettes

It may come as a surprise to many Scots that West Lothian has been named Scotland's first capital of enterprise by Gordon Brown, as well as the UK's council of the year. Not only that; Estonian teachers are looking to West Lothian as a model of good enterprise practice.

Last week, West Lothian's education department hosted a party of 13 teachers, five heads and two enterprise agency staff from the Estonian region of Ida-Viru. West Lothian's two enterprise development officers, Eric Burton and Morag Pendry, visited Ida-Viru in May under a project funded by the British Council to introduce the Estonian teachers to their approach to enterprise. The group's response was to seek European funding to visit West Lothian to see enterprise education for themselves.

A former Communist state with a history of shale mining, Ida-Viru is experiencing economic and educational problems that West Lothian faced 20 years ago, with the demise of the iron and steel industries and an old infrastructure.

The Estonian teachers learned about how West Lothian implemented Determined to Succeed, as they are keen to introduce a similar initiative in Estonia.

The project is essentially about sharing good practice in enterprise and creating links between schools in the two countries. The Estonian teachers visited primary and secondary schools in West Lothian to see Determined to Succeed and A Curriculum for Excellence in action. They were also trained in using Up for Enterprise, part of Strathclyde University's Enterprising Careers suite of teaching materials. A longer-term aim is to establish a working link between schools in the two countries and encourage business and trade links, with pupils exporting and importing goods from the partner country.

"Initially I think they thought that we were just talking about setting up businesses with pupils, but it's more about an approach," says Mr Burton.

"It's about fostering a 'can do, will do' attitude and having a linked-up strategy. Although they were doing some enterprise, they didn't have any framework for it. They're keen for their country to be an economic player."

One of the main things they noticed was how enterprise was about working together with partners. We work with the Chamber of Commerce, The Enterprise Centre, Careers Scotland. They liked the joined-up approach.

"Schools in West Lothian were interested in forming international links, so children can have a broader perspective."

Each of West Lothian's 11 secondary schools and 65 primary schools has a teacher responsible for enterprise. Mr Burton says evidence suggests schools which demonstrate a high level of commitment to education for work achieve gains in SQA results. Two of the Estonian teachers visited Linlithgow Bridge Primary.

"They're very keen to move forward with the enterprise agenda," says headteacher Anne Corr. "They don't have specific budget funding for enterprise, as we do. I hope they have seen it is easy to become an enterprising school. Although the funding is very beneficial, you don't need a huge amount for enterprise work."

Mrs Corr says she also benefited from the visit. "I learned a lot about education within Estonia."

Joe Boyd, headteacher of Bathgate Academy, was visited by the headteacher of a small Estonian school, two of her teaching staff and two enterprise officers. "They were interested in the way enterprise was right the way through the curriculum and they were really interested in how technology like Smartboards were being used by teachers," he says. "We talked them through a two-day event we have for S1, where different departments have different roles. Music do an advertising jingle, art design it, technical actually make it and business studies put together a business plan."

He also learned from his guests. "The teachers have an awful lot on their plate. They taught their subject from P1 right through to S6. They do a compulsory centralised curriculum, so there's an issue about freedom of choice. They were very interested in our curriculum and how we timetabled it. It was a good two-way discussion."

Kadri Jalonen, a development officer at Enterprise Estonia, facilitated the trip from the Estonian side. "In Estonia the curriculum is knowledge-based, with more subjects and study hours," she says. "The emphasis on skills and experience in Scottish schools sounds very logical. Scottish schools use more enterprising methods than us. We don't have enterprise through the whole curriculum.

"Scottish schools are better equipped to support enterprising teaching and are sharing experience through enterprise officers. Young children finishing school (in Estonia) tend not to be ready for work life, they have poor problem-solving and communication skills, and little practical experience of business.

"Estonian schools want to integrate enterprise into the whole curriculum and make learning exciting.

"We believe the Scottish enterprise in education's main principles could be a model for us too."

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