Just a few days ago I was reading a column by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas Friedman in which he stresses upon the need to get millions of American kids, not just the bright ones, excited about innovation and entrepreneurship again. This in order to prepare a million new businesses that won’t simply give brief roadway occupations, but steady jobs that keep America on the cutting edge. To accomplish that, Friedman further made a suggestion – ensure every American kid knows about National Lab Day, get the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship to every middle and high school teacher and bring every classroom to view the documentary movie “Ten9Eight”.
Though a little dated (first published in NY Times in 2010), it found resonance (most parts of it) with me especially in these times of the much talked about demographic dividend, creating more jobs and the craze for startups in India. Friedman clearly was alluding to getting younger people in school, into the fold of entrepreneurship and being “innovation ready” — meaning that along with their mortarboards, they receive the critical-thinking, co-creation and multi-tasking abilities and collaboration skills that will help them invent their own careers and in turn create more jobs.
Friedman’s viewpoint provides cues to deal with India’s current manpower story. By 2020, about 60% of India’s population of 1.3 bn will be in the working age group of 15-59 years. It is estimated that by 2025, India will have 25% of the world’s total workforce.
India it seems, can also do well to engage with teaching entrepreneurship in schools, in order to build bridges between the young minds of today and job seekers of tomorrow. Various surveys have highlighted the need of teaching entrepreneurship from school level in order to create a competitive workforce which is beyond grades.
Experts argue that unless we introduce entrepreneurship as a school subject — like math, science history or geography — most young minds would remain unmindful of an undeniable fact for long, that jobs are best created, not consumed. According to Steve Mariotti, if entrepreneurship education can create jobs, encourage students to stay in school, and provide economic rescue for people in low-income communities, why aren’t we teaching it in every school.
Many are of the perspective that entrepreneurship learning— how to identify opportunities, how to work around issues, how to encourage innovation, how to overcome barriers, how to form winning teams, how to place risk in context, how to balance a mix of innovation and tradition, how to develop social, emotional and vocational skills— is best taught in the formative years of education. Some of the leading experts are also of the view that teaching entrepreneurship from school level can be the long haul blue print for the most ambitious Make in India campaign.
Meanwhile, the government too has been quick to realize that entrepreneurship is one of the answer to sustained economic growth and job creation. . Efforts are being made to introduce entrepreneurship at the high school level, by offering it as an optional vocational subject in classes XI and XII by the Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE). Some schools in India have already taken the step forward in integrating entrepreneurial and life skills development into formal school curriculum at the elementary level.
However, the path to taking entrepreneurship to schools is paved with unique challenges. Given the barriers of the Indian education system it is important to address concerns like curriculum design, trained teachers, should it be optional or mandatory, should it be in-house or outsourced among others.
Whether entrepreneurship should be taught in schools may remain a moot point for a while but unless we develop a comprehensive ecosystem and an entrepreneurial mindset starting from school all the way up to the industry, we may remain a country of job seekers. Watching “Ten9Eight” meanwhile may not be a bad idea after all.