THE class of '99 at Muirkirk primary in East Ayrshire could go down in educational history as trailblazers of their generation.
Their presentation of an enterprise education project to a meeting in the splendour of Gleneagles Hotel that year persuaded the hard-headed business and public sector leaders who were present that all primary pupils in Scotland should get what the Muirkirk pupils had.
"They took our breath away," Tom Hunter, millionaire founder of Sports Division, recalled.
Iain Anderson, chairman of BT Scotland, remembers the pupils "addressing this awesome gathering with great confidence and the impact they made on us was overwhelming. One lad was so small his head didn't appear above the lectern."
The Muirkirk pupils could not have chosen a more symbolic product to talk about in front of an audience of businessmen - their "Good Company" manufactured and exported wallets. Mr Hunter and his fellow tycoons have since dug deep into their own wallets to support the new venture.
Almost two years later, Mr Hunter and Mr Anderson were among business leaders who gathered on Monday at the Glasgow Science Centre to join Wendy Alexander, Lifelong Learning Minister, in launching a pound;5 million schools enterprise programme, half backed by private cash and half by the Scottish Executive.
The money will be used during an initial period of three years to give every pupil in Scotland's 2,300 primaries at least two "enterprise experiences" before the end of their primary years, with out-of-school activities regarded as particularly important. The initiative, which builds on the existing programme, is likely to move on to the full 5-14 stages and then to extend to all secondary pupils.
Primary teachers will receive support from teams of around 30 local co-ordinators who will largely be seconded teachers experienced in delivering enterprise education. Development plans have already been drawn up in 17 local areas.
Ms Alexander said these moves would give Scotland an international lead as the only country with a national programme for enterprise education in all its primary schools.
Although the initiative emerged from the Executive's lifelong learning department, it is endorsed by the education department, directors of education and the inspectorate. Leaders of the initiative were at pains on Monday to lay stress as much on what it is not about as on what it is. Mr Hunter, who was instrumental in persuading his fellow businessmen to part with their cash, said: "It is not about building a nation of entrepreneurs, but a nation that thinks for itself and is not shackled by constraints."
The buzzword was creating a "can do" mentality among young people. "If you give me the choice between can do and IQ, I'll go for can do any day," Mr Hunter, a director of Schools Enterprise Scotland, the organisation set up to raise money for the venture, said.
Ms Alexander agreed that enterprise education should be a broadly based vehicle for "building confidence in young people and harnessing their enthusiasm". She added: "We need to start young - to enthuse our children about what they can achieve in life."
Mr Anderson, chairman of Schools Enterprise Scotland, said the aim was "to make Scotland an enterprising nation". This did not stop at the school gates.
The scale of the new programme is what distinguishes this from previous ones, Brian Twiddle, who heads the National Centre: Education for Work and Enterprise, based at Jordanhill, said. It has been centrally involved in the schools enterprise programme which was first launched in 1994 under Tory ministers and has reached the point where 60 per cent of primary schools are involved. More than 3,000 teachers have been trained to deliver enterprise education.
The task was to give this work greater focus and co-ordination, Ms Alexander said, extending it to all pupils not just some.
Mr Twiddle was indirectly responsible for getting Monday's show on the road, having arranged for the Muirkirk pupils to attend the 1999 event at Gleneagles. But the job of implementing the new initiative has gone initially to the Glasgow Education Business Partnership (EBP) and thereafter to Careers Scotland, which will absorb the EBPs from next April.
This has inevitably given rise to speculation about the future of the National Centre. A review of the education for work agenda has begun under Nicol Stephen, Deputy Education Minister.
Mr Twiddle said he was comfortable with the review. "Which was entirely right and proper" he said.
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