Encourage enterprising teachers too

31st July 2009 at 01:00

Few teachers in Scottish schools feel enthused by the enterprise agenda. Most view it as one of those initiatives which will have little impact, for good or for ill. Occasionally, we will be asked to tick boxes for audits to measure enterprising activities but, most of the time, enterprise will slumber quietly like many of the ideas which creep into the school curriculum.

We have been conditioned to believe that enterprise agenda is an educational asset. To smirk is to show ignorance of the changing world in the workplace and what it demands of young people. Criticism is viewed as unwillingness to change or meets the glib response that "you are probably doing it anyway". Strange that we are often unaware of what we are doing until other people come along and give names to our ideas.

So it was a relief to read This Little Kiddy Went To Market by Sharon Beder and appreciate her wise analysis of, among other things, the difference between enterprise education and citizenship education. Sometimes, they are obvious. Taking responsibility for one's own actions and future at the cost of being socially responsible towards others highlights the individual-versus-society debate, fuelled by the policies of the Thatcher era.

Other differences are more subtle. Enterprise education looks for pro- active rather than politically active individuals.

Beder maintains that Determined To Succeed, the aim of which is to bring enterprise to all Scottish schools, is misleading. She asserts that it drives kids to appreciate business values, rather than teaching them to question whether these are the best values or whether business might have too much power and be undermining democracy.

On the other hand, citizenship education promotes critical thinking, a willingness to co-operate to achieve a better future for all and an ability to oppose things politically which undermine citizen rights.

It is no coincidence that a "core curriculum" with enterprise as a key part of it has followed on the ideological diversity of the protest era. Rebellion is a necessary, healthy part of society but enterprise education promotes essentially capitalist values, thus compromising the empowerment of pupils.

If in doubt, consider Beder's observations on the reasons given by employers for promoting literacy. It is seen as a skill that is necessary in the workplace rather than a means of self-expression, self- understanding or social understanding. That low levels are associated with cultural diversity and poverty is ignored by policymakers. Business leaders see education as a process of acquiring the information and skills necessary to be a productive, rather than a reflective, worker. We need to do more to nurture thinking individuals.

In tandem with considering how to develop thinking skills in our pupils, we need to encourage freedom of expression in teaching. The argument that we need enterprising pupils for today's society begs the question of why we aren't encouraging enterprising teachers. Teacher autonomy is reduced at every level from curriculum development to classroom practice. I have been advised that I am not allowed to publicly decry falling levels of per capita.

Enterprise? The irony bites hard.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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