Enterprise minister Jim Wallace puts the case for teaching children in Scotland how to become successful in business
In the United States earlier this year, I met a group of Scottish school pupils who left me utterly convinced that we can and should create a learning environment that encourages all young people to become more enterprising in their thinking and actions.
This group of 25 fifth-year students were about to graduate from the Scottish Space School at NASA in Houston – a week-long learning programme aiming to inspire young people about the range of career options in science, engineering and technology.
It was clear to me when speaking with these young people that taking part in this unique programme had helped fire their imagination about the career opportunities available to them.
Many told me that they had gained in self confidence and developed a new found belief in their own talents and abilities. This is the very essence of our strategy for enterprise in education, Determined to Succeed.
This is the kind of invaluable opportunity that many can only dream of, and one that I wish had happened when I was at school when enterprise in the classroom was limited to the youngster who set up his own tuck shop over the lunch break.
It is initiatives like the Scottish Space School which are helping to change the way young people learn.
The Executive launched its Determined to Succeed (DtS) strategy for enterprise in education last year in recognition of the fact that Scotland’s long-term economic growth depends on a change in attitudes towards enterprise.
Enterprise In Education is focused on increasing pupils’ understanding of, and interest in, work and enterprise. We want young people to enter the workplace with the right mix of skills – together with the self-confidence and drive to make the most of them.
DtS has won support from business people and council leaders across Scotland. It has attracted investment totalling more than £40 million over three years to help in creating a dynamic, prosperous Scotland.
Let me make it clear, though, that DtS is not just about creating the business people and entrepreneurs of tomorrow.
I’ve no doubt we could devote hundreds of column inches to debating whether we can teach children to become entrepreneurs in the Richard Branson or Tom Hunter mould.
I recently visited Cranium, a Seattle-based company, respon sible for the world’s fastest selling board game. It is a fascinating experience to enter their office which looks more like a board game than a conventional office. You are immediately struck by the energy and creativity and much of it stems from their founder Richard Tait.
Brought up in Helensburgh and a graduate of Heriot-Watt, Richard is an inspirational figure. I can absolutely say that we can create an environment in our schools where this type of creativity and innovation can be made to flourish. Indeed we must create such an environment or else the next Richard Taits will also head across the Atlantic.
Enterprise skills can be taught – these include creativity, focus on achieving the goal ahead, drive and ambition.
DtS is intended to change the way in which young people learn so that they are helped to develop new skills, attitudes and behaviour. It is about being prepared to take sensible risks and to have a go. It is about being able to face up to failure and see it as something from which to learn, from which to recover and on which to build future success. That is crucial to achieving our wider economic priorities. I and other Executive ministers have visited schools the length and breadth of Scotland to see examples of DtS in action. There are great stories to tell: thriving companies, creative team working and confident young people.
I have seen how young people at a Midlothian school have entered a successful partnership with furniture giants IKEA to develop product design teaching materials for use throughout the UK.
I have heard how pupils in Aberdeen have developed their organisational and communication skills by organising a citizenship conference for pupils and teachers.
Pupils in Portree have gone back to the future to develop an award-winning record of local experiences of the second world war, and their product has been purchased by schools throughout Scotland.
That is a first-class example of an entrepreneurial project that was developed in the community, was about the community, benefited the community and, indeed, the end customer.
The common theme in these examples is the energy, enthusiasm and creativity that DtS creates among both young people and teaching staff.
DtS is not about teaching stand-alone classes in enterprise skills but embedding enterprise education within the school curriculum and school life.
More enterprising learning so that every youngster takes part in enterprise activity, more vocational experiences in the workplace, more chances to work together in entrepreneurial initiatives such as the ones mentioned above.
Schools and business need to work together. Not to promote or sell products but to show young people the practical relevance of what they’re learning, and encourage them to think in enterprising ways.
The first National Enterprise Week, which takes place this week, is a UK-wide initiative which has been endorsed by the Chancellor Gordon Brown. Its aim is to promote an enterprising culture amongst young people.
A number of events, both nationally and locally, will be taking place across Scotland including the launch of a new programme in partnership with the Entrepreneurial Exchange through which we will twin exchange members with Scottish Schools; a Shell LiveWIRE training day for 100 young entrepreneurs; and a policy conference for enterprise in education professionals on DtS.
Through DtS, Scotland leads the way in the UK – and Europe – in delivering a coherent and consistent framework of enterprise to young people at school. So Enterprise Week is an opportunity to celebrate our success. I hope that Scotland’s young people will get involved in events in their local area.
DtS goes to the heart of our vision for a Smart, Successful Scotland. Through it, we are helping to change the attitudes of our young people, so that they have a greater chance of realising their full potential.
We must help develop an enterprising approach to work and life so our young people are able to be the best they can, quickly meeting the challenges of becoming effective employees, employers – and even entrepreneurs.