Exposing students to entrepreneurship in education has largely been a boutique endeavour in Australian schools. It is either touched on within the business and enterprise curriculum or viewed through the lens of economics as part of Humanities. Some schools are now beginning to offer it as an elective, however, greater access to and the concepts and the thinking behind entrepreneurship, should be central to all schools’ offerings at this time of colossal disruption in education and the workplace.
I believe building entrepreneurship into the heart of teaching and learning for girls especially, is essential.
Problem-solving, innovation and transformative ideas are at the heart of entrepreneurship. There has never been a more important time to disrupt educational offerings for girls, and arm our girls with the skills they need to be change-makers, leaders, and trailblazers. Education in this area is the only way to accelerate gender equality.
#CrackingTheCode for Gender Equity is this year’s International Women’s Day theme. I believe we are closer to cracking the code by fostering an adaptive mindset in our girls. We need young women who seek feedback as fuel to improve; who are confident communicators who can convey their thinking in a compelling way; and who can identify problems using creativity, innovation, and their initiative to propose authentic solutions. These critical skills can be taught and must be taught if we, as a society, are serious about achieving gender equality.
With content so easily accessible with the rise of search engines and now AI, what is desperately needed is for our next generation to be able to analyse, leverage and apply that knowledge to solve problems. This is what I believe the development of an entrepreneurial education can provide, regardless of one’s chosen career.
As governments and industry identify the critical skills they need for the future, creative problem solvers and critical thinkers are high on the list. For schools that have previously focussed on regurgitating information, this is major paradigm shift.
The Global Startup Ecosystem Report GSER (2020) reported that Australia scored only 3.7 out of 10 for entrepreneurial education at the school stage. This is concerning given the research conducted by Deloitte in 2017 concluded that 63% of all jobs will be enterprise skills intensive by 2030. It’s time for schools to adapt and that means critically reviewing school offerings and shaking up teaching and learning outcomes.
The good news is that some schools are adapting. The transformative power of experiential learning, and its impact on students, is finally being realised and is gaining traction in the learning experiences of a small number of schools across Australia.
Until now, entrepreneur pathways have not been highly visible for many girls and young women. They cannot be what they cannot see. I’m on a mission to change this. By introducing entrepreneurship as a compulsory component of our curriculum for girls aged 10 to 16, we are redefining the educational landscape and better preparing the next generation of females for future success.
A change of focus requires a philosophical shift in what is viewed as crucial in preparing girls for their future. Staff, students, parents, and industry all need to be onboard. It’s the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem that is a key to success. Our school’s experience has shown that entrepreneurship does not sit neatly in a single classroom.
It’s a common misconception that we are encouraging our next generation to all be start-up giants. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In my school we are expanding on the concept of entrepreneurship and problem-solving by linking it with the UN Global Sustainability goals, thereby encouraging our girls to consider issues of sustainability using entrepreneurial thinking. We teamed it with STEAM skills to create a new compulsory program called ESSTEAM. The play on the word ESSTEAM cannot be underestimated. We hope that our program builds our girls’ confidence and self-esteem to take on greater challenges in their tertiary studies and beyond.
The research is unquestionable; if you do good, you feel good. Making a positive contribution to the world around them and value-creation is key to our ESSTEAM program. We are committed to ensuring our girls leave school with a strong sense of purpose, not just good academic results. Self-agency and self-advocacy are critical for our girls to soar through the glass ceiling that women have been chipping away at for decades now.
However, it’s important to note that we don’t need a whole generation of entrepreneurs focussed on startup companies, though we may find some amongst our girls. McCrindle Research from 2021 found that 86% of Gen Z expect to run a business of some type in their lifetime. And, for our girls that might choose this pathway, they face significant inequality ahead. UN Women recently reported that women-led startups received only 2.3% of venture capital funding in 2020. Here lies the opportunity for girls schools to make a difference. Developing our girls’ ability to influence, motivate and inspire others supported by business, financial, and innovative skills is crucial.
I believe that girls schools have an obligation that they simply can’t turn their backs on. Girls need to be engaged in issues that matter to them and can respond through critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, communication, and creativity. Schools that don’t start recognising entrepreneurial skills as important as literacy, numeracy and STEM, may well be disadvantaging their students. I believe that schools need an integrated, systemic approach to embedding entrepreneurial education into their school curriculum to create long-term impact for all students.
Allowing the entrepreneurial potential of students to be realised, is no longer considered a gift, but a given. Schools that don’t actively allow their students to engage in ideation, analysis and communicate solutions to real-life world problems, will be left behind. The earlier schools start, the better.