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How should education systems adapt to entrepreneurship in schools?

Most of us have, at some point, dreamed of being our own bosses. The allure of setting your own rules, following your passions, and driving your own success is undoubtedly appealing. While there are any number of reasons for not pursuing that dream, at least one of them is that most of us don’t know where, or when to start.      

“Why wasn’t I taught this in school?” is the common refrain. And it’s a fair one too because, outside of the odd market day, most of us weren’t taught anything about entrepreneurship at school. It’s also something that urgently needs to change if Africa is to address its substantial youth unemployment problem. 

“Africa’s youth should be one of its greatest resources,” says Nolizwe Mhlaba, former Community and Project Manager at The Anzisha Prize.

“They are increasingly well-educated and connected. Unfortunately, far too many young people around the continent end up leaving school without any real career prospects.”

In 2022, youth unemployment rates were above 40% in both Nigeria and South Africa. It is clear that a radical shift is needed. The best way to do that is to encourage entrepreneurship from the day a child enters the formal schooling system to the day they graduate. Entrepreneurs are, after all, drivers of economic growth, job creation, and even social change.

But how should education systems adapt to that need? After all, you can’t jump straight in and try to teach primary school children about things like elevator pitches, term sheets, and burn rate. It can be difficult enough for degreed adults to wrap their heads around those concepts. 

A good place to start is to understand what we mean by entrepreneurship in education. As a 2015 OECD paper notes, there are two competing understandings. The first centres on the narrow definition of entrepreneurship as someone starting their own business. The second, meanwhile, operates from a much broader base. In this understanding, entrepreneurship encapsulates “making students more creative, opportunity-oriented, initiative-taking and innovative, adhering to a wide definition of entrepreneurship relevant to all walks in life”.

While Africa obviously needs more out-and-out entrepreneurs, the second approach is much more likely to produce the outcomes that the continent needs.

“We need people who can work with (and for) entrepreneurs, create policies that support entrepreneurialism, and who can find innovative solutions to the continent’s most pressing problems,” says Mhlaba.

Adapting this model to the education system means giving educators the tools they need to teach ‘through’ entrepreneurship, rather than teaching ‘about’ or ‘for’ entrepreneurship. That means integrating entrepreneurial thinking into other subjects across the curriculum and connecting entrepreneurial characteristics, processes, and outcomes to more general subjects.

Learn more about how to create an environment where young people can develop entrepreneurial skills through entrepreneurship practice by downloading this FREE guide for educators: How to Develop Entrepreneurial Behaviour Through Entrepreneurship Practice.

Lynn Brown
Lynn Brown
Lynn is a content marketer that focuses on brand storytelling through digital platforms. Skilled in a background of web development, search engine optimization and content production, Lynn is excited to utilize over 10 years’ experience in digital marketing to help grow the ecosystems that support Africa’s very young entrepreneurs to ensure their success.

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