Education is outdated, it doesn’t provide skills for the 21st century. Authoritative research shows that education lately constitutes a constraint for development, as well as big burden for public finances…” Who has not heard these words from some opinionated commentator? Of late, education has been constantly criticised, especially by business people and the politicians who speak on their behalf.
In times when every euro of public money spent is questioned and no political decision is taken without a clear financial return, public education is seen as black hole which drains money and gives no immediate return. Education is often criticised for not being modern enough, not providing the ‘right skills’ to students and not correctly preparing them for the future.
Whilst education is hard to defend in its current state, the solutions proposed by the above mentioned speakers are often absurd. Their proposals have two underlying characteristics: first, they don’t reflect the role of education in society, secondly, they always hide private stakeholders.
The latest criticism levelled at public education is that it fails to prepare young people for entrepreneurship. As part of its market-orientated response to youth unemployment, the European Commission has lent its strong support to entrepreneurship education. Below, we list nine simple reasons why we believe that the Commission has it wrong and that entrepreneurship education is not only a false, simplistic solution, but is a danger to the public character of education.
- Entrepreneurship is based on competition. Education should, as much as possible, be conducted in a cooperative atmosphere of and foster a culture of cooperation.
- The individuals commonly touted as role models for entrepreneurs are primarily from a certain demographic: both in terms of gender and ethnicity. The popularity of these role models stems from their wealth rather than their social values or the contribution they make to society. It is doubtful that educators will be keen to promote these people as role models to their students.
- The overarching objective of entrepreneurship is self-realisation through financial and material gain. Someone is not termed an entrepreneur unless they benefit financially from their innovation. Whilst education should facilitate self-development, it should foster the social good, not private financial success.
- Entrepreneurship education does help tackle youth unemployment. It does not change the harsh labour market conditions that young people face after leaving education. On the contrary, it shifts responsibility for unemployment from society to educators and students and encourages young people to blame themselves for not being sufficiently creative or flexible for the standards of today’s society and current labour market trends.
- Entrepreneurship is often defined as the capability to turn ‘idea into action’ and its implementation in school is supposed to ‘foster innovation and creativity’. We need to remark that firstly, ‘idea in action’ cannot be considered driven solely by blind personal interest and careerism. Secondly, innovation, brilliant ideas and creativity are everyday mental processes, connected with learning experience in all its complexity. Education should foster them in every single aspect of learning, stimulating young people’s interest in undogmatic and ever-changing knowledge. School is not supposed to teach how to financially exploit creativity.
- There is a huge difference between the concept of ‘active citizenship’, promoted by entrepreneurship education, and the concept of ‘citizenship education’. In the first case students are taught how to be proactive for individual success whilst the second teaches how young people can get involved with their community, the first is for individual benefit, the second for society’s benefit.
- It opens the door to the private sector; who can bring better direct experience about entrepreneurship than a successful business person? Private companies are ultimately motivated to export their modus operandi and their greedy, opportunistic paradigms. This is ontologically opposed to the concept and social values of education.
- It instils the ludicrous idea that going to school is not necessarily an essential life step, that provides the basic tools to build a social personality and a citizen’s identity. Rather, it promotes the idea that self-advancement is more important than attendance at school. Many early school leavers are being presented to young people as role models (see the story of Nick D’Alosio).
- Education faces far more important and urgent questions than whether to introduce entrepreneurship education in schools. Education cuts in many European countries mean that the school day is getting shorter and as as a result, curriculum provision is getting poorer: subjects already on the curriculum are not being taught at their best.
Introducing entrepreneurship as an extra subject would be a decision of questionable utility. On the contrary, it’s certain that focusing on the implementation of entrepreneurship education is proof of misinterpreting the real purpose of education.
Daniele Di Mitri & Luke Shore