Entrepreneurs thanks to or despite our education?

Posted on 04. April 2014

by Estefanía Almenta

estefania-almenta-lopez-modifiedA couple of weeks ago I went to a school to do a training session for bilingual teachers. I took advantage of the opportunity to visit a kindergarten class and I asked kids what they wanted to be when they grew up. “An astronaut – to explore the universe “, “an architect – to design houses for families to live in“, “a pilot – to travel around the world –“, “a doctor – to cure sick children”. Then I went upstairs and asked the same question to a group of teenagers, in their third year of high school education. I got a very straight forward answer: “a civil servant – to have a job I can keep forever.”

What had happened to these enthusiastic, passionate, and zestful children that ten years later were apathetic adolescents, longing to do a monotonous job for the rest of their lives? I came to the conclusion that they all had one thing in common: education. From the very first day they set foot in school, they were told to throw away their own ideas and stick to the textbook. Most kids are a bit reluctant at first, but eventually accept that their thoughts won’t be valued. Apparently, if they want to succeed at school, they need to be really good at repeating somebody else’s views, not at building their own. This way, conformity is persistently encouraged and creativity is systematically killed.

What are the disastrous consequences of this traditional approach to education? We discussed the answer to this and other questions during the Ronda Forum on Education and Entrepreneurship, where several members of FutureLab Europe were invited to participate. There we agreed that, first and foremost, people stop thinking because of school and, as a result, they don’t trust their own capacities, their potential to be unique. The general lack of self-confidence is harrowing.

When you receive this type of education, creating your own business is not an easy task. This is why I wonder: are we entrepreneurs thanks to or despite our education? This may be difficult to judge, but there is no doubt that if you want to be an entrepreneur, you need many skills, and first of all, you need a plan. Ideally, a good one. You also need to be ready to face failure and learn from it, even when in schools failure is always punished. This is why excellent entrepreneurs are often awful students. They take risk and open new paths. They think the unthinkable and do the impossible. Repeating academic contents is not for them.

What type of education do we need, then? Firstly, education should teach young people advanced language skills, including public speaking, persuasive writing, debating and negotiating, and a good command of English. At the same time, educational systems and programmes should consist of project based work where people learn how to cooperate and to deal with unpredicted events.  By organising projects in an interdisciplinary setting, creative thinking, originality and divergent thinking will be fostered.

It could be argued that education systems are designed for everyone, and not every single citizen will become an entrepreneur. Nevertheless, developing all these abilities is good for any professional, not only for entrepreneurs. You can also benefit from an entrepreneurial attitude if you have a paid job. Improving education will be of advantage to the whole society, and, in any case, an education system that does not teach young people how to think for themselves is simply a failure.