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Fostering entrepreneurial thinking in today’s classrooms

4 min read


SCENE: Three strangers at a coffee shop, reading the same page of the want ads.

Business leader seeks educated students who work independently and collaboratively to solve problems by applying information in new ways to produce creative solutions. Contact: pie-in-sky?@it’

Educator seeks a new set of priorities where my content is secondary to the 21st-century skills and attitudes my students will need in the future. I want to be judged by my results on the latter, not my test scores on the former. Contact: nice2dream@it’

Student seeking a relevant education. I am more than my test scores of recall on ubiquitous information. With the wealth of information and tools in my grasp, I am capable of creatively producing with knowledge today. Contact: Hello21stcent@it’

We’re losing the battle for relevance in education, and it’s getting worse. A 2013 Gallup poll shows that only 44% of high-school students find school engaging. That’s down from 61% in middle school and 76% in elementary. The longer they’re with us, the less involved they are. What’s wrong?

Coincidentally, the same poll shares that 45 % of students plan to start their own business — that’s “plan to” not “are interested in” starting a business.

Business and financial education classes often are electives — if they are offered at all. And classes in entrepreneurship are like bicycle horns — rarely seen and typically offered as add-ons.

Ninety-three percent of Americans believe all high-school students should be required to take a class in financial education. While a handful of states have adopted varying degrees of financial-literacy curricula, only four states require high-school students to take a semester-long course in personal finance.”

That’s disappointing for a few reasons.

To function in today’s world, we needs students who are equipped with skills in entrepreneurship and financial literacy. According to Brian Page, an award-winning educator and working group member of the U.S. President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability, ” Inequality has skyrocketed, and economic mobility, that is the likelihood of a child moving “up” an economic tier, is now worse in the United States than in most advanced economies throughout the world.

We need a modern education system with equitable funding and opportunities for every child that prepares our next generation of everyday Americans for the complex reality of our new financial world.

Again, Page notes, “K-12 financial education is in the infancy stages, the catalyst is often legislation mandates of the integration of financial literacy concepts rather than a dedicated course of study. As schools in impoverished areas are being defunded, the limited resources they have must be focused on new and high stakes federal and state education legislation and testing that rarely include financial education.”

As an elective class, this mean that most students will never be exposed to these concepts. But it also means that we are taking engaging topics that are holistic, multi-disciplinary, and authentic experiences and breaking them down into subsets of skills, taught in isolation of other subjects to a few students.

We need to foster entrepreneurial thinking; this goes far beyond business and financial literacy. Entrepreneurial thinkers apply the four Cs of 21st-century learning — creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking — as they:

  1. find and define problems, opportunities, and potential within an open-ended context

  2. display creativity and adaptation in their solution

  3. recognize the dynamic nature of situations. There is no “correct” answer that applies everywhere.

  4. learn skills, content, and entire disciplines for the purpose of action in an authentic arena

  5. are motivated to improve

For better or worse — and I would say better — students have dreams of opening their own companies and are asking to learn more about controlling their own financial destiny.  While we wait for legislation to catch up to reality, we have an opportunity to tap into that desire to make schools more relevant, provide an authentic context to learn traditional content, and produce a generation of entrepreneurial thinkers.

If we take advantage of this opportunity, we might just find that those three strangers in the coffee shop have more in common than they think.

Derek Luebbe a high-school principal at the American International School of Budapest. He blogs at Does It Catch Mice?, and is the creator of the simulation simCEO, winner of the SIIA award for Most Innovative Ed Tech Product 2013. He lives in Hendersonville, N.C. and Budapest, Hungary. Follow him on Twitter at @dluebbe.