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Education and entrepreneurship

by Tim Middleton

Arthur lived in a small, remote, impoverished part of the country. He was a bright young boy who did well at primary school, so much so that his parents found ways for him to be able to continue his education at a high school. They were delighted that he did well there too so they looked to send him on to university where fortunately he could be sponsored. As the day approached for him to leave the village to go to university, his brothers went to the elders and said that they must not allow him to go. “And why not?” asked the elders. “It is not fair; not every child in the village can go to university,” they said. Despite Arthur’s pleas that his brothers had done nothing to help him, the elders agreed that no child from the village could go to university until everyone could go.
“But that means no-one will ever go,” replied Arthur. “If my brothers want to stay here in the village forever, fine, but why should I have to stay because they do not want or cannot go?” The elders declared that it might be dangerous for Arthur to go. “But my parents are happy for me to go,” Arthur replied.

Silence ensued.

Another parable (not a true story) is told (quite widely on social media in recent months) of a professor who did an experiment whereby all the grades of students would be averaged, everyone would receive the same grade and so no one would fail (but similarly no one would receive an A). After the first test, the grades were averaged and everyone got a B; the students who worked hard were upset while the students who did not prepare were happy. Consequently, the students who studied little studied even less for the next test while the ones who had previously studied hard also studied little. Not surprisingly, the second test average was a D. Not surprisingly, no one was happy. And it does not take too much genius (or hard work) to find out that the average for the third test was an F. Everyone failed because “when the reward is great, the effort to succeed is great, but when the authority takes all the reward away, no one will try or want to succeed”. The moral of the story was given that we “cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity”.

Equally, we cannot hold some back because not all can go. We cannot stop people doing what they can do simply because some people cannot (or will not) do that same thing.

The New Curriculum in Zimbabwe emphasises the need for young people to be entrepreneurial in their thinking. The whole spirit of entrepreneurship can be encapsulated thus: If you can do it, do it! If you want to do it, do it! Go for it! Indeed, schools also are now being encouraged to follow this principle, to make their own school uniforms, to grow and sell their own produce, to make (and sell) their own masks and sanitisers — in other words, to be entrepreneurial.

The message is: Learn to look after yourselves rather than rely on the village, the community, the government to provide for you. In short, education is to prepare young people to be independent, to be entrepreneurs.

This is all in line with the 21st century learning skills that bring about entrepreneurial thinking that the whole world is pushing for. Youngsters are to apply critical thinking, to think for themselves, to question rather than be told the answer (or have jobs given to them). Youngsters are to show creativity in finding a gap and filling it, in seeing an opportunity, a different way of doing something, and doing it. Youngsters are to demonstrate communication skills to enable others to see, engage and benefit from their efforts. Youngsters are to show they can collaborate so that everyone (the village, community, country as a whole) benefits. Youngsters will thus develop character that will be steeped in self-reliance, self-initiative, self-managing. That is energising, enterprising and exciting!

Edu-preneur and entrepr-ucation — whichever way you look at it, education is about developing entrepreneurs. That is what this new curriculum is all about; let those who can go forward by themselves do so — that applies to individuals, businesses, communities, schools, even in this pandemic. This country will surely flourish, and thus bring benefit to all, when we fully grasp the reality of this fundamental principle to allow those who can to go forward.

Arthur did go to university; he gained his degree, and a doctorate, and distinctions. He went back to his village — and what did he find? That is another story, for another day.

l Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.

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