Chris Cuckson is a Senior Education Associate for Enabling Enterprise and has five years teaching experience. Here, he explores the idea that enterprise education can be a universal approach and reflects on his recent visit to an school in Naples in Italy to support students and teachers in an enterprise challenge.

If we think of how much the world has changed in the past few decades it is slightly unnerving. With rapid technological developments, the global recession and political climates the world is a very different place to what it used to be. In terms of education, this makes the job of preparing young minds for tomorrow’s world ever more difficult.

In 2006 Ken Robinson mused on this point in his TED talk. “It’s Education that’s meant to take us into this future that we can’t grasp […] nobody has a clue what the world will look like in 5 years time, yet we’re meant to be educating them for it.” I believe that bringing enterprise into the curriculum is how we can best prepare young minds for what lies ahead, and not just in the UK. These issues are faced by children all over the globe and in an ever shrinking world enterprise could be the common thread that binds education systems together.

The value of enterprise education

I first realised the value of enterprise education in my first year of teaching. My class were having difficulties getting on and I was at my wits end what to do with them as constant arguments and squabbling were affecting their learning. My NQT mentor suggested that I do a class project as a way of bringing them together. With the Summer fete not far away we decided to set up our own stall to make money for a class trip. The children decided they would like to grow herbs and plant them in hand painted pots they decorated themselves. They also created recipe cards to sell along with them. It worked, the arguing stopped and I had a class who were focussed, engaged and developing skills that would stand them in good stead for their future (and, dare I say, putting lots of numeracy and literacy skills to the test at the same time).

I now work for Enabling Enterprise and get the unique opportunity to work with children all over the country who are doing enterprise projects in their schools and in businesses. I’ve seen first hand the incredible effect that enterprise education brings to children across a whole spectrum of different schools from deprived inner city to the more privileged and affluent areas. The effect is the same; enjoyment of learning, development of core life skills such as teamwork, resilience and creativity and an insight into what life might be like once they leave school.

Interest in enterprise in Italy

Last year I was working at a school in Camden on an Enabling Enterprise Challenge Day where children in all classes work in teams to set up their own businesses, designing, making, selling and advertising their own range of souvenirs. This particular school also happened to be taking part in the Comenius project that bring schools across Europe together to work on collaborative projects.

As part of the scheme, teachers from all the participating schools take it in turns to visit each other’s countries and spend some time in their schools and on this particular week it was the UK’s turn to host. A few weeks later I was contacted one of the Italian teachers who works in a primary school near Naples who said that they would love to try out the idea in their school as this was something completely new for them. I was curious to see how easy it would be to run the day in a different country. Would the teachers and pupils get the same out of the experience despite the different geographical and demographical context? I travelled to Italy to find out and what I experienced was amazing.

Can enterprise education work in Italian schools?

Enterprise education is based on the principles of project based learning and works well in the UK as our curriculum is generally based around cross curricular topics and pupils are used to group work. However, the Italian education system is much more traditional and has a narrower curriculum, and collaborative learning is not something they use as often.
Despite these differences, the day was a huge success. The excitement was clear from the moment the children arrived at school. Not one of them seemed to care that the school had been opened especially on a Saturday and they had to come to school an extra day. Using local landmarks such as Mount Vesuvius, Pompei and the Amalfi coast for inspiration, the teams created fantastic sounvenirs using materials they ‘bought’ from the teacher after careful budgeting. Selling back the finished products to the teachers enabled them to experience making a profit which filled them with joy! The true Italian dramatic style flourished when each team presented their short TV advert to promote their products. The teachers told me how they were initially nervous about trying this sort of thing out as they don’t usually allow the children so much freedom with their learning.

“I think they’ve learnt that sometimes it’s not easy to work with each other, but they’ve understood that they can do better working together than alone” (Teacher)

What the School Gained

Chatting to the Principal of the school, it was clear that she was impressed with the way the children were learning and could see how this method could be used to bring together other areas of the curriculum.
The teachers also gained a lot from the experience commenting on how interesting it was to have the opportunity to watch their pupils working in a completely new way. “They have never thought this way before, it’s a completely new concept for them. Some children did struggle at first with the lack of a traditional structure but most have taken to it so well. It’s surprised us as some of the children who usually misbehave and not interested in learning have been so much better today and interested in what they were doing.”

And all this from just one day of enterprise. Imagine what could be achieved with more projects like this added to the curriculum, not to mention the opportunities to engage with schools from all over the world who are working in a similar way. Surely this would be the best preparation for life?

Enterprise education: a universal approach?

When reflecting on the day I was struck by how engaged and enthusiastic the students were even though this was something so unfamiliar to them. It really seemed to spark their imagination and enjoyment. As this approach seemed to work so well in Italy it makes me wonder whether this could work in other countries too. Could enterprise education be the way to bring together different education systems with a common theme, despite their different teaching and learning styles? I think that the answer is yes. This may look very different across the globe and be adapted to work in different situations, but essentially I think it could work. Students of all ages, abilities and backgrounds no matter where they are from need to learn real world skills, such as leadership and teamwork that will support them to be a success. Enterprise education could be the answer to this.

Projects like Comenius and Global Entrepreneur Week have made a start in recognising the importance of enterprise education and making international links, but I think more needs to be done. As Rosanna Sorrentino argues, ‘the school of the future is one which develops entrepreneurial ability; teamwork, leadership, creativity, problem solving, communication and flexibility in a cooperative European climate’ and I agree.

From my brief visit to a school in Italy, I may have had a glimpse at the future of education. Now, we just need to share this and let the rest of the world know.

Enabling Enterprise works in partnership with 150 schools and 70 top businesses to equip students with the enterprise skills, experiences of the workplace and aspirations for future success. If you’d like to find out how you can get involved, contact us.

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