Can schools cultivate entrepreneurs?

Professor Ken Robinson once invited me to lunch at the University of Warwick, where we talked of creativity, entrepreneurship and education. Ken is famed for his TED talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” He insists that creativity is a core skill in education for an adaptive world. Creativity cannot and should not be confined to the art department, or reduced to a ‘creativity week’, but it must be embedded into the very culture of teaching and learning.

His thoughts are very relevant for entrepreneurs, who are typified by those people who leave school, sometimes with few formal qualifications. Entrepreneurs often exhibit qualities which are disruptive to classrooms such as drive, challenging conventions and boredom. Some entrepreneurs mention complete disengagement with formal education, from Trevor Baylis to Thomas Edison, who was home educated by his mother.

Read: What teachers can learn from kids who don’t hand their homework in on time

Has education failed entrepreneurs in some way? How then do we cultivate the next generation of entrepreneurs? How must education disrupt itself if we are to offer an education for our children to prepare them for a world in which the half-life of skills is in exponential decline?

Disrupting education pedagogy

Historically, education has been primarily concerned with filling children’s heads with knowledge and testing them to death to see if they can repeat the knowledge accurately. However, compared with 50 years ago, all the knowledge is out there, freely available in the digital age.

Education must therefore shift towards helping children to apply knowledge wisely and to convert vast volumes of data into information. Teachers need to move from filling children’s heads with data towards facilitators of informed thinking and doing. The data – wisdom pyramid has inverted in the information age, where we are drowning in data but searching for wisdom. The more data we have the more we need wisdom.

Disrupting teaching mythologies

There is mounting evidence from the University of Cambridge and other establishments that starting school early (e.g. five years old versus seven) does little for educational achievement, but quite a lot for disengagement. In the UK we are drifting towards starting formal education much earlier without giving children an opportunity to learn through social play. I believe we may come to regret this over time.

Research also identifies the unsurprising finding that the key determinant of achievement is good teachers, rather than school uniform disciplines and other arcane practices. Wise governments and education leaders focus on creating the conditions in classrooms where teachers can be their best, rather than trying to control classrooms by micro-management.

Disrupting factory education

From my experience as a School Governor, author and speaker on leadership and the father of two boys, much thinking in UK education is now based on a ‘factory model’ where exam outputs are the main measure of success and teaching is standardised. Unfortunately the inputs (children) are not and will never be standardised! Great teachers have always known this and manage to reach all the children in the classroom.

Read: What should classrooms of the future look like?

Many teachers find themselves unable to resist the avalanche of lesson plans, inspections and all the ‘architecture’ of modern education. This stops them from using their experience and gut instinct to teach in ways that engage children’s heads, hearts and souls. A secondary school in my area lost all its great teachers, due to the installation of a factory discipline and poor management instead of great leadership. This left them with average teachers, mediocre results and disengagement from bright children in the years that followed. 

Finland is a leader in educational achievement and is disrupting the education system to develop greater levels of collaboration, teamwork and communication skills rather than passive learning. I was asked to conduct a similar experiment in a primary school, where we took a year group and offered them an education experience based on interaction, engagement and individual choice.

The headmistress reported an unexpected and significant rise in exam results and a climate of co-operation that stood out head and shoulders above the other years in her school. 

The experiment blended a number of different approaches to learning: formal teaching, active experimentation, reflective learning and allowed for individual and team engagement to reach the majority of the class. If teachers want to teach 100 per cent of their pupils, the keys to success are in the design of lessons to reach heads, hearts and souls. Entrepreneurs are in one of the ‘hard to reach’ groups and teachers must master their engagement and design skills in the information age.

Has education failed entrepreneurs?  Probably yes, although some entrepreneurs carry on regardless of their educational experience. We will cultivate the next generation of entrepreneurs by much more personalised and active teaching and learning strategies in schools.

Education must disrupt itself to reach a wider range of learning styles. Curriculums might themselves be rearranged more horizontally such that creativity and cross subject learning is embedded into the classroom.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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