Belgium- Brussels : The latest Eurobarometer survey shows increasing concerns on immigration, economic and unemployment issues. Europe hasn’t done enough to invest in long term solutions to job creation and poverty reduction and we are now realizing how poorly equipped Europe is to handle these challenges.
Despite the fact that investing in education and training is one of the best and most cost-effective ways out of the situation we are in, the EU is investing just 6% in education, down by 3.2% since 2010 . As the European Commissioner for Education, Tibor Navracsics, recently said: “We need a change of mind-set: putting money into developing young people is not an expenditure. It is an investment in our future. In our prospective economic growth and competitiveness, in job creation and prosperity, as well as in social cohesion and stability.”
It is indeed a question of changing mind-sets. The world of work has changed and is more fast-paced than ever. Business models have been disrupted. This is a scenario full of uncertainties and risks which demands a different set of skills. Technology has transformed the way people interact with the world and the way they learn. We must prepare and equip a new generation of innovators and problem-solvers in every sector. We need entrepreneurial people to persevere with new solutions. It may sound simple to say Europe needs more entrepreneurs, but in fact entrepreneurial competences are precisely the ones we need to cultivate if we want to achieve the EU’s goals in this environment. Entrepreneurial competences are more valuable than ever to any business or organization or administration and are a key factor in young people making a successful transition from school to work.
So entrepreneurship education matters. It enhances skills in problem-solving, creativity, taking initiative, team-work, organization, digital capability and business acumen. It sits well alongside any subject or age level. Students learn by doing, they interact with the community outside school and they turn ideas into action. Teachers say relationships between students improve, they show greater interest in school and take more responsibility for the success of the projects they are working on. Today, this is more important than we may realize. It is not just the prospect of reducing drop-outs or improving academic performance, it is also about enhancing mobility and successfully integrating people into new communities. With so much migration taking place, classrooms are a microcosm of societal change. What is achieved there (or not) has long-term consequences for each of us.
Entrepreneurial competences can be learned and there is more and more understanding of tools and methods that do this. It takes time to turn the big ship that is any education system, so there is no time to waste. It is clear that Ministries of Education cannot be left to shoulder the burden alone. If we are going to keep up the pace, the European Investment Bank (EIB) says we will need stronger and more numerous public-private partnerships. Business and education have not been communicating effectively. The reality is that while millions of young people have a university education in Europe, 39% of companies say they struggle to find people with the right skills . There are too many drop-outs and too many NEETs (not-in-employment-education-or-training). The EIB has warned of the direct link between lagging education/training systems and heightened unemployment.
The recent EU report, “Entrepreneurship Education: The Road to Success”, cites multiple impact studies ranging from enhanced skills development to positive changes in school environments and increased teacher engagement to critical long term outcomes such as improved employability and higher rates of entrepreneurship . A UK survey showed young people who have had at least 4 interactions with business/industry are 5 times less likely to be “Not in Education, Employment or Training” (NEET) . It makes perfect sense that impact builds over time and across multiple experiences.
The European Entrepreneurship Education NETwork (EE-HUB) is a network of leading stakeholders and experts dedicated to the creation of hub for entrepreneurship education which will spread the word and move the needle significantly on uptake of entrepreneurship education from “ABC to PhD”. There could not be a better moment for business, education, academia, NGOs and governments to be sitting at the same table. There is political momentum, economic urgency and there have been very positive results so far.
Two-thirds of EU governments have moved to include entrepreneurship education explicitly in the curriculum and actively encourage partnership with multiple stakeholders. The Nordic governments including Norway were first-movers and have been at it for more than a decade. Today they have the highest penetration rates in Europe and have invested in valuable research that others can benefit from. The private sector in virtually every European country is engaging more than ever with every age level in the school system, sharing know-how, people, resources and providing real-world opportunities for young people. We talk more and more frequently of “entrepreneurial universities and schools”. The Entrepreneurial Skills Pass (ESP) for 15-19 year olds has been launched with a strong line-up of institutions and companies behind it. The number of schools involved in entrepreneurship education is steadily going up, the number of teachers trained is increasing and, most important, the number of young people exiting the system with some entrepreneurship education behind them is growing year-on-year. In fact, entrepreneurship education is an example of one of the largest and most successful public-private partnerships in existence today.
While there are persistent and striking headlines that would seem to deflect our attention and money away from fundamentals like education, we should spare a thought for the potential that is in our classrooms today. We already know the ROI on that investment would be significant and we know what works. Let’s not hold back.