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Why kids should be taught how to start a business at school

If young people are equipped with the right skills in school, entrepreneurship becomes a viable career option. Shutterstock

The African continent is home to a large number of young people – and it simply doesn’t have jobs for them all. Youth unemployment is high across the continent.

Some countries, like Nigeria and Kenya have tried to tackle this problem by equipping children with entrepreneurial skills while they’re still at school.

This equips children with essential foundational knowledge and skills such as emotional intelligence and risk taking; it also develops their appreciation for self-employment opportunities. This means that when such children find themselves in a situation where they are unemployed, they don’t give up and succumb to self-pity. Instead, they are able to use their skills to create new opportunities as entrepreneurs.

Both have long made entrepreneurship training part of their schools’ vocational subjects and technology classes. For some years, teachers in these subjects have been trained in entrepreneurship education.

Of course, inculcating a culture of entrepreneurship can’t entirely eradicate the problem of youth unemployment. But it can reduce unemployment by giving young people the skills they need to create their own businesses and generate work for themselves or others outside the formal job market.

And a large body of research from around the world has shown that entrepreneurship education should start from an early age.

We set out to see whether Botswana and South Africa could make some inroads into their youth unemployment problems by introducing entrepreneurship into their schools’ curriculum. South Africa’s youth unemployment rate stands at about 55%. Botswana’s is around 34%.

Botswana offers an optional subject called Design and Technology from junior high school level (pupils in these grades are aged between 12 and 15). In South Africa, Technology is offered as a compulsory subject at various phases of the school curriculum.

We found that the current curricula in both countries do not include explicit entrepreneurship content. On top of this teachers in these subjects aren’t trained to pass on knowledge or information about entrepreneurship. This is a real missed opportunity given that in Nigeria and Kenya the subject of technology is a good vehicle for supporting and developing pupils’ entrepreneurial skills.

Entrepreneurship in schools makes sense

In Botswana and South Africa, entrepreneurship-related programmes are offered to people who have already left school. Botswana’s government has introduced initiatives like the Youth Empowerment Scheme and the Youth Development Fund to encourage and empower young people with entrepreneurial and survival skills such as interpersonal, risk taking, emotional intelligence, as well as being able to identify opportunities, and financial skills in general.

In South Africa, the National Youth Development Agency includes an entrepreneurship development programme. This aims to help young entrepreneurs access the relevant skills, knowledge, values and attitudes needed to develop and create their own businesses. But entrepreneurship programmes are not coordinated and often not managed well in South Africa. So very few young people actually benefit from them.

In principle, the programmes are good. But they haven’t worked because the people they’re meant to benefit don’t have the right skills to take advantage of what’s being offered. This could be addressed if entrepreneurial skills were being instilled at an early age – in the school curriculum.

Use existing resources

So why don’t schools in Botswana and South Africa simply introduce an entirely new subject that’s devoted to entrepreneurship?

The reason, as we point out in our research, is that the school curriculum is a hugely contested space in any country. Many subjects are competing for space and recognition, and it’s a long, complex process to introduce an entirely new subject.

That’s why we suggest that the southern African neighbours could learn from Kenya and Nigeria by merging entrepreneurship education with an existing subject. Technology, or Design and Technology, is the ideal home for this since these subjects already incorporate a number of skills any good entrepreneur needs. These include problem solving, critical thinking, teamwork and production or making skills, which learners develop in Technology when they design and physically make a product.

When learners can see the results of applying their knowledge and skills into actual products – which could be sold or somehow used to create an income – their learning immediately becomes more valuable.

Technology teachers will need to be trained in entrepreneurship education. But this is a worthwhile investment both for the individual teachers and their own skills and the value they’ll be able to add for their pupils.

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