This article is part of Amway’s ‘Driving Entrepreneurship in Europe’ Knowledge Network
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” the late Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa and anti-apartheid revolutionary, once said.
Today, the speed of life is breaking new records every day. This is largely due to new technologies and because people are constantly absorbing enormous amounts of information.
As such, education has become an indispensable tool for keeping up the pace. In this regard, the institution of education plays an important role, as it is one of the main factors shaping young people’s attitudes, skills and culture.
At present, with Europe facing a number of challenges related to the ongoing economic recession, rising debt and high rates of unemployment, the EU and its member states are prioritising the development and promotion of entrepreneurship education programmes that engage students from a young age.
“Entrepreneurship education develops skills, attitudes and knowledge that are important for pupils and students in adult life. From the economic perspective the acquired skills benefit for both an individual and society. Therefore, this kind of initiative and creativity are really important,” said Anya Bourgeois, an analyst at the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency of the European Commission.
The European Commission has long supported the development of entrepreneurship education. In its 2012 report titled “Communication Rethinking Education: Investing in Skills for Better Socio-Economic Outcomes”, the Commission emphasised entrepreneurial skills.
The report recommended: “Member States should foster entrepreneurial skills through new and creative ways of teaching and learning from primary schools onwards, alongside a focus from secondary to higher education on the opportunity of business creation as a career destination.
Real world experience, through problem-based learning and enterprise links, should be embedded across all disciplines and tailored to all levels of education. All young people should benefit from at least one practical entrepreneurial experience before leaving compulsory education.” For this purpose, the Commission is constantly monitoring education’s evolvement at primary and secondary school levels, as well as vocational training. And it publishes reports based on this analysis. The Eurydice, which is the research published in February, captures all the latest developments in this field and provides fresh insight into the problems facing European countries.
Commenting on the Eurydice, Bourgeois said: “The last report goes much more in depth compared with two previous ones. This year we included more countries as our network has grown and now the Balkan countries also participated in survey”.
According to the Commission’s report, the rigor and strategy of entrepreneurship education and its strategies vary considerably across European countries. While the development of such education is particularly encouraged in the northern European countries, which can be linked to their commitment to innovation (Sweden, Finland and Denmark take the top places in the European Innovation Scorecard 2015), its evolution in the Western Balkans differs in nature. This region could improve the standards and quality of entrepreneurship education at school because of the EU requirements introduced in all pre-accession countries.
As demonstrated by the implementation of specific strategies, the United Kingdom (Northern Ireland and Scotland) has pioneered with the first specific entrepreneurship education strategies in 2003, followed by Lithuania and Norway in 2004.
At present, there are 11 countries and regions that have specific entrepreneurship education curricula, which are entirely defined by government intervention. In some countries, there have been two or more consecutive specific programmes, such as in Belgium (all Communities), the UK (Wales), Montenegro and Norway.
Just as the implementation of specific entrepreneurship strategies varies from country to country, so do the sources of the education’s funding. Currently, entrepreneurship education in European countries is mainly sponsored financially by national budgets. However, in some countries, EU funding may also be made available to support entrepreneurship education. EU funding may be direct or indirect. In the first case, financial support is provided directly by the European institutions to the final beneficiaries. In the second case, an intermediary authority between the EU institutions and the final beneficiaries is responsible for managing the allocation of funds.
Furthermore, countries may also allocate a separate budget for entrepreneurship education even where they do not have a strategy. Spain, the Czech Republic and Belgium are among countries that allocate resources to entrepreneurship education from the national budgets, whereas Denmark, France and Malta have set up special separate funds. Moreover, in Denmark, the Danish Foundation for Entrepreneurship receives about €3m from the ministry of higher education and science and the ministry of business and growth each year, plus additional external funding.
What is more, two-thirds of European countries and regions receive money from the European Social Fund (ESF), which is the main EU instrument for supporting jobs, helping people get better jobs and ensuring fairer job opportunities for all EU citizens. Despite the achievements reached by European countries and the EU as regards the implementation of entrepreneurship education at school, challenges are inevitable part of the process.
“We have not seen countries that would officially reject promoting entrepreneurship education,” said Bourgeois. “There is a full consensus and understanding on the political level about the necessity of such education. I would say that authorities rather face the resistance on the individual levels: teachers, parents and sometimes students. But this is another question, which needs to be researched.”
Education plays a significant role in the formation of an individual’s character and influences him or her throughout life. Therefore, education systems in Europe should anticipate skills that will become necessary in the future and teach students to use them in advance. From this perspective, the introduction of entrepreneurship education at school in Europe is not an experiment, but a necessity for a successful life.