Teachers must boldly go

31st October 2008 at 00:00

The problems in the financial markets are just one more sign that we live in a rapidly-changing world, and young people's futures are going to be very different from our past.

And rightly so. We know our industrial model of "take, make and waste" is not sustainable. Any system where 80 per cent of mankind lives on 15 per cent of the world's total GNP, and 40,000 children die every day of preventable diseases while others take home hundreds of millions of pounds, is morally as well as financially bankrupt.

Given the radical changes that are coming, the argument for helping young people to develop an enterprising attitude which will help them to sense and shape their future together, could not be stronger.

The dictionary describes enterprise as "an undertaking, especially a bold or difficult one"; "enterprising" is being "resourceful, imaginative and energetic".

But some time ago, enterprise education became Determined to Succeed because researchers in Scotland found that pupils did not understand what enterprise was. Now, there seems to be a feeling that it's teachers who are the problem because they don't understand why enterprise is important.

This couldn't be further from the truth. We in Learning Unlimited don't do research. But from running more than 30 courses throughout Scotland over the past six months on employer engagement with DtS, we have plenty of evidence to suggest that teachers are by no means the problem.

Our team has been inspired by the work in schools and authorities to promote employer engagement. A highlight for me was co-leading a workshop in East Ayrshire where the number of participants from the business world matched the number of educationists.

We have used video clips in training for many years, but none has had as big an impact as those we have been using to deliver current training. Pauline Clifford is one of the role models used to promote the initiative, which aims to embed an enterprising attitude in the classroom, in every subject and lesson. Pauline won the best young business category in a competition for her company Star Spangles, which customises shoes and has Paris Hilton and Justin Timberlake as customers.

A video of the Scottish entrepreneur Mick Jackson, from Wild Day, makes the point that enterprise is not just about making wealth, but about the responsibility that wealth brings. How apt in the current situation.

However, the most informative and influential video documents highly innovative work by several departments in Graeme High, Falkirk, working with Cala Homes to embed enterprise into the curriculum.

It's Heather, a fourth-year pupil there, who gives the best plug for Determined to Succeed and employer engagement. She talks about the experience of being asked to design a shoe rack to be used in show houses. She describes how people were allowed to speak their minds. But she also referred to the challenge of designing something for real: "It's the most realistic thing we have done in school. You had to use your own ideas, your own initiative. I realised I can do things and I'm better than I think I am."

I took to simply asking at the end of this video: "What did you think of that?" The word "inspirational" was a common response.

The message from Heather and her classmates is that the school system must support young people to take initiative and responsibility for their own learning, in partnerships with teachers and employers. This means supporting teachers to be more enterprising. So let's talk less about the need for more clarity and direction from A Curriculum for Excellence, and encourage more teachers to get on "Starship Enterprise" (above) and boldly go where no teacher has gone before.

Ian Smith is director of Learning Unlimited.

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