By Sheena Crawford-Kempster
That entrepreneurs and small businesses play a key role in job creation and economic growth in South Africa is an accepted reality. But is enough being done to prepare young people for entrepreneurial success?
Clem Sunter, South African scenario planner, said in an August 2021 article in Engineering News that the most important sources of jobs worldwide are medium-sized and small enterprises. It is entrepreneurs who create jobs. “South Africa is at an economic crossroads and the path it takes will define its future for decades to come. We need an inclusive economy with a new generation of young entrepreneurs at the helm.”
School level is where this entrepreneurial education must start; it needs to ensure that students are able to embrace a leadership mindset that can manage the complexity and challenges inherent in developing small and medium businesses. Students should be encouraged to identify problems in our world and find solutions to overcome the problems all businesses encounter. This requires teaching that delivers enquiry-based learning and asks, ‘what do you think?’ rather than instructing ‘this is what you need to think’.
It requires teachers who collaborate with each other and seek out connections across subject boundaries because success rests on leveraging the wisdom of the group through a series of integrated projects, project-based learning days and informative outings to places encouraging students to capture curiosity and engage with people outside of their normal learning environment to come up with practical solutions for everyday problems.
Our schools practise cross-curricular teaching, placing students in multi-disciplinary teams and co- ordinating lessons across subjects to all tie into a common theme. This is where entrepreneurship learning is at its strongest.
Using Reddam House Constantia as a case study, the idea for entrepreneurial cross-curriculum lessons started with a project-based learning programme called ‘Seed Capital Project’ for Grade 9 students, who planted a vegetable garden from seeds, then harvested the produce to sell at a market day.
The Covid pandemic has forced students to think about the harsh realities of food security and what a world struggling with good food options may look like. The collaborative classes included Economic and amp; Management Sciences (EMS), Design, Computers, Science and English, which all worked together towards a Spring Fair e-commerce website, where different parts of entrepreneurship combined in economic, technological, environmental and social contexts.
The project also incorporated T-shirt designs, ceramic plates and textiles, and interaction design lights that combine Arduino (open-source hardware and software) electronics, robotics and coding with 3D printing and laser cutting. The design solutions started around food security: the food garden was planted and concept designs for bioplastic vertical planters were created. Seed Capital Project extended further into Social Entrepreneurship to plan and plant a food garden at a children’s home.
Cross-curriculum teaching is continuing at Reddam House Constantia the entrepreneurial way – as a considered experiment. Areas of proven success encourage growth and further exploration; ripples are created that coalesce and form waves of change.
The project-based entrepreneurship curriculum approach is gaining traction, as evidenced in an article published on the Department of Science and Innovation website in 2019, titled ‘Entrepreneurship is the missing ingredient in our curriculum’ by Professor Keolebogile Shirley Motaung, Assistant Dean of Postgraduate Studies, Research, Innovation and Engagement in the Faculty of Science at Tshwane University of Technology, and Founder and CEO of Global Health Biotech.
She states, “Entrepreneurship is practical – it is not just about understanding business concepts in a theoretical way. It’s about taking risks and thinking on the spot about how these concepts can be applied practically.” Her suggestions for curriculum reform, while university-based, are highly relevant and applicable to high school level curriculums:
- Academics need to be encouraged to see a connection between enterprise and employability.
- When recruiting academic staff, experience with entrepreneurship education should be considered.
- Best practice seminars to showcase effective entrepreneurial teaching should be held.
- Lecturers should be encouraged to visit small and medium businesses in the local community.
- Social scientists should work closely with academics in the natural sciences to create spin-off companies from universities.