The ideas generation

15th April 2011 at 01:00
The age of the entrepreneur is upon us. We must fire up pupils with hands-on tasks

Have you noticed the growing number of "go-getting" pupils in our schools? You know the ones: they are highly motivated and resourceful, interested in entrepreneurship and have a clear idea about what they want to do with their lives. Some intend to conquer the world.

I know dozens of these young self-starters, including a pupil in S2 who established his own business at the age of 12. He knows about pricing and how to use websites, ad speak and social networking to build his customer base.

Motivated by programmes such as Dragons' Den and The Apprentice, these forward-thinking pupils are knowledgeable and competitive. Like American dotcom zillionaires, they embody the new spirit of creative entrepreneurship.

The prime minister has forecast that the next decade will be the age of the entrepreneur. And schools, he says, can do a lot more to help those young people with ideas and skills who don't like the prospect of routine work or a line manager telling them what to do.

Universities are responding to the increasing number of graduates interested in setting up their own businesses by offering enterprise courses and supporting enterprise clubs.

Many schools already offer lessons on finance and business skills. Some go a bit further by providing information on how young entrepreneurs can obtain mentoring and financial support. A few attempt to kindle the entrepreneurial spirit through interdisciplinary competitions.

For one secondary school a three-day "Dragons' Den" competition, involving teams of pupil-entrepreneurs pitching to experts from the local community, provided the year's most memorable event.

But a recent survey indicated that many pupils are dissatisfied with the quality of the enterprise education they receive. Quite a few of the respondents to the online survey said they gained more useful information and inspiration from TV than from classroom lessons.

Enterprise education is, admittedly, still pretty patchy and in some schools quite poor. Teachers themselves don't have much experience of starting businesses.

But we do know how to organise courses and, with the right commitment and resources, how to make enterprise an interesting, exciting and, hopefully, rewarding subject.

The best courses offer hands-on experience of writing business plans, meeting deadlines, working in teams, understanding business ethics and responding to environmental considerations.

And they make good use of role models like Stella English, winner of The Apprentice who, in spite of a childhood marked by neglect and time in care, shows where resourcefulness, determination and enterprise can take you.

John Greenlees, Secondary teacher.

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