Raiders of the lost ideas

12th October 2012 at 01:00

With more than a million of the nation's youth unemployed, the FE sector is rallying round to get 16- to 24-year-olds into education or employment. But as well as common-sense schemes like apprenticeships and advanced-level vocational courses, another approach to stimulating the economy has been crashing down the corridors of many an educational establishment like the rolling boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark, crushing anyone in its path devoid of the "go get 'em" spark.

That's right, the entrepreneurs are coming. Everyone look busy.

In addition to the specialist entrepreneurial colleges and initiatives that already exist for students interested in enterprise ideas and creating their own businesses, some colleges are attempting to hammer the entrepreneurial message into every area of the curriculum.

"How are you going to embed entrepreneurialism into your entry-level functional skills English class?" I was asked. My reply? "By making the students literate." Not sure it was the right one.

While this obsession with making every student a "learntrepreneur" has good intentions, it is misplaced. When a learner arrives in my class who struggles to read and write, my priority is to teach them to do so - not to roll out a load of Gordon Gekkoisms more suited to the Tory party conference c.1987.

Much of the entrepreneurial bluster falls into a category I would describe as lifestyle rather than education. The focus has shifted from equipping learners with a set of transferable skills to boost their worth in today's job market, to pushing a concept that is about winning, not taking part. I have no desire to get up at 4am to train for my next triathlon and make a million by breakfast, and I don't feel like a loser for lacking that urge.

My quest for greater understanding of the ideology took me to a gathering of entrepreneurs in Sheffield. Although lovely individually, as a race they were not my bag. I like to think I have a solid work ethic, but I lack the granite resolve of those who define their work by their attitude rather than the product, service or expertise they offer.

I knew there were some of my kind at the event, so I headed towards the wing of the building where the FE folks were congregating. I was looking forward to discovering real, solid outcomes of the entrepreneurial push. I wanted to demonstrate to detractors that this weekend was more than just a corporate cluster-whoop of senior management, high-fiving each other under an oil-on-canvas portrait of Peter Jones.

Unfortunately, I can't tell you about the wonderful entrepreneurial work being rolled out in FE colleges, as it would have been easier to board P.Diddy's yacht than get past the keen young students who guarded the gateway with more dedication than the Knights Templar.

Since the dawn of FE time, any lecturer worth their salt has encouraged confidence, creativity and critical thinking in learners. Teaching business skills alongside their chosen vocation is also undoubtedly a valuable strategy, albeit not a new one. However, I'm not yet convinced that this new trend of confusing clear and simple teaching tactics by elevating entrepreneurialism to a cult-like status is producing beneficial outcomes of any real note.

Sarah Simons works in a large FE college in Mansfield.

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