Gerald Haigh sees schools take part in schemes which set up real companies to buy and trade
You have a product which you wish to sell to an import group in Israel. They have something to sell to you in return. After negotiation by fax, e-mail and telephone, the time has come for a video conference, so you arrange to use British Telecom's state of the art video conferencing suite in Birmingham.
The last moments tick away, and you grow nervous - the conference has to be completed within an hour, and there are some tricky issues to be decided.
this is the point that has been reached in their year-long Young Enterprise project by a group of sixth-formers at King Edward VI Handsworth School in Birmingham.
Young Enterprise projects are not simulations. A company is set up - in this case by 13 students of this all-girls' grammar - which has to decide upon and make and market a real product. Members of the team take on directorships - finance, marketing and so on - and they experience some of the practicalities of running a business.
For instance, they raise investment funds by selling pound;250 worth of shares and can borrow up to pound;50 from a bank. Typically they make a profit of several hundred pounds, which is paid to shareholders in dividends.
Each year, more than 50,000 pupils take part in Young Enterprise projects. At King Edward VI, well over half of the lower sixth are involved with a range of companies. Just one of these, though - Diversify UK, chaired by 17-year-olds Charlotte Smith and Shellina Merali - was selected to be an exporting company, dealing with "Mitos" at a kibbutz school in Israel. Their mission was to sell their product - decorated photo frames - and to negotiate for the import from Mitos of a rather neat two-hole paper punch that can sit inside an A4 folder ready for use.
"It's not been easy," says Charlotte Smith. "We're not sure that they really like our product. They're all boys and we feel that they think it's a bit girlie."
Both Charlotte and Shellina are appreciative of the YE experience. "It's opened our eyes." says Shellina. "Up to then we'd only had to deal with school and family." Charlotte agrees. "We've been working with friends, and yet sometimes had to issue warnings to them about their work. That's not been nice, but it's business. It's helped us to realise that if you're responsible you have to do what's necessary or you let other people down."
The video-conference, sponsored and run by BT, was another valuable experience. Shellina, as chairman, coped well with misunderstandings caused by language differences, magnified by microphone problems.
Learning about the real world has also been high on the agenda at St Conval's High School in Ayrshire. As part of its involvement in another exporting scheme, Achievers International, St Conval's pupils have for three years been selling locally made audio and video tapes of Burns's poetry, and Charles Rennie Mackintosh jewellery, to McIntosh High School in Atlanta.
Extending their operation, they have just completed arrangements to send Celtic football club strips to Samadi International School in Nigeria.
St Conval's, too, has been communicating by fax, e-mail and with its own video-conferencing equipment provided by the local Business Enterprise Partnership. The Burns tapes and the jewellery go extremely well in Georgia. The demand for Celtic shirts, though, was a bit more puzzling. Betty Orr, principal teacher of home economics and teacher co-ordinator of the project, says: "We couldn't understand it until we realised that the colours were the same as the Nigerian national flag."
Achievers International, now in its third year, started from international contacts made by a group of Ayrshire schools, and has grown rapidly to include 65 schools across the UK.
Though based on the export and import of local products rather than on the marketing of school-made items, there are similarities with the Young Enterprise project. Betty Orr says the benefits include "learning about teamwork, and building friendships across different cultures". There are practical spin-offs, too: "Students find when they go for interview that employers are most interested in what they have been doing. It's the sort of thing employers are looking for these days."
Young Enterprise, Ewert Place, Summertown,Oxford 0X2 7BZAchievers International, 2 Wellington Square, Ayr, Scotland KA7 1EN. Tel: 01292 281818 Fax: 01292 290083610192 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Web site: www.achieversinternational.org