In 2009, an 11-year-old boy in the United States, Aaron Ware, changed my views of education, just by being on TV. After the death of his twin brother, he wasn’t coping well. His counsellor asked him what he liked to do most. When he answered, “I love to bake,” the counsellor gave him homework – to write a plan for a baking business – and $20 as his first investor. What he came up with was “Doughjangles,” a cookie company that made him thousands of dollars and, more importantly, helped to heal his pain.
It struck me that entrepreneurship could be a kind of panacea to many problems in New Zealand and in our education system, such as:
• students being unmotivated
• assignments not being related to the real world
• school budgets being under pressure
• social problems (illness, drug abuse, theft, violence etc.) exacerbated by poverty
• money-related marital problems
• small business failure (37% success rate between 2010 and 2016 for instance)
This simple method of Aaron’s counsellor has the potential to help reduce all of these problems. But how would it work in practice? And could it really be done through schools?
The curriculum itself specifically mentions entrepreneurship twice, explaining that te reo Māori is key to “broadening entrepreneurial and employment opportunities” (p.14) and touting the importance of “exploring what it means to be entrepreneurial” (p.39) as part of the implications of “future focus”. Despite these references, we tend to avoid mixing enterprise and our own subjects as if we will be contaminated by it. But what if we could teach entrepreneurship without much extra learning or effort? And what if it was fun for everyone? What if we were to implement the following system?
1) Students open a bank account at school;
2) Teachers facilitate enterprise projects in relevant subjects (English, graphics, art, music etc.) once a year;
3) Students bank a portion of the money they earn and the school uses the rest to help pay for associated costs and extra-curricular activities;
4) Bookkeeping on all income and expenditure;
5) Reflection on the project and goals for what to improve the next time;
6) Students fill out a tax return at the end of the year;
7) Students leave school with thousands of dollars to help cover living costs and/or put towards savings for a future home.
One thing I learned from Professor Terry Locke was that school assignments are created for a fake audience – the teacher. If you don’t get along well with the teacher, however, how much effort will you put into that poem or composition piece? What if, by contrast, your audience was your peers, or the wider community, or people you think will buy your creation? What if you learned to upload your music onto iTunes for sale, or how to add your poems to your photos and sell them as part of a book your class designed? Or how to run an auction on items you have made in your technology class?
Massey High School is a great example of parts of this process in action. In 2017, students there sold four houses they had built and made a $20,000 profit on each one.
The only difference is that I am advocating a system that supports both school AND students, and has a much broader set of outcomes.
Unlike other enterprise systems, the one here proposed is tied directly to the curriculum. The concept has been well received by some but is not as popular as my other campaign of “Emotional Intelligence in NZ Schools”. One of the most common objections is, “Shouldn’t we be encouraging students to be creative for creativity’s sake? Won’t entrepreneurship just reinforce commercialisation?” People often give literature as an example. Shouldn’t we just learn to enjoy it, instead of working out how to profit from it?
The irony is that almost all that literature we love to talk about has been paid for by a consumer and its author has received royalties for it. We teach our students more to be consumers of literature than producers of it. In other words, students are naturally on the wrong end of “commercialisation” when it comes to literature. In fact, entrepreneurship helps protect students from commercial vultures. By teaching students the language of advertising, for example, they can become aware of the tricks that companies use to sell them products they don’t actually need. Reflection on their business projects would also include environmental impact. Additionally, students should also have an opportunity to donate a portion of their money to a charity after each project. How to analyse suitable charities could be part of a discussion in social studies. In summary, rather than reinforcing the ills of commercialisation, the system would actually counteract its darker sides – and more.