Why SA’s schools should teach entrepreneurship

South African youth make up 63.3% of our country’s population. As the majority demographic, their destiny will largely determine the country’s future. Photographer: Armand Hough, Independent Newspapers.

South African youth make up 63.3% of our country’s population. As the majority demographic, their destiny will largely determine the country’s future. Photographer: Armand Hough, Independent Newspapers.

Published Jul 3, 2024


By Reon Barnard, Tabono CEO

South African youth make up 63.3% of our country’s population. As the majority demographic, their destiny will largely determine the country’s future. As South Africa celebrated Youth Month, it is important to deeply reflect on the challenges, and opportunities, facing young people who are trying to prepare for and build prosperous professional lives for themselves.

Currently, the biggest obstacle standing between their ambitions today and their hopes for tomorrow is unemployment. According to South Africa’s Department of Statistics, 45.5% of individuals between the ages of 15-34 years are unemployed, translating to over 9 million young people with no formal income.

To blame for this deeply worrying scenario are social and economic disadvantages, a lack of employment opportunities, generational ripple-effects of pre-1994 policies, the government's role in a failing education system, and a mismatch between skills and job requirements – a topic that has been brought under the spotlight now, more than ever. Many have raised the question of whether the country’s schooling system is failing our youth.

Evidently, there is a need for change, not only in the employment market but in the educational system. The challenge is that solutions need to build a bridge in both the world of work and the world of education.

Entrepreneurship at school

In 1997, elements of entrepreneurship were incorporated into South Africa’s educational curriculum. Subjects such as accounting and economics were deemed sufficient to introduce school children to the notion of following an entrepreneurial path as a career option. In theory, these subjects are beneficial to aspiring entrepreneurs. However, if you scrutinise these numerically and statistically based subjects closer, it becomes evident that they are far from sufficient to lay even the groundwork for entrepreneurial thinking.

To sufficiently prepare school learners who are interested in becoming entrepreneurs, or rather, entrepreneurial, the argument can be made that a subject - entrepreneurship - should be introduced to the school curriculum. Elements of existing subject matter would be incorporated from a theoretical viewpoint but not limited to numerical and statistical content. Practical skills such as problem-solving, managing employees, tax compliance, marketing and profiling a business, budgeting, how to grow a business, seek investment, and build a business infrastructure could be included.

As an entrepreneur myself and founder of various businesses, entrepreneurship to me is the process of creating, developing, and managing a new business venture with the aim of generating profits or creating value. I have first-hand experience of how many critical thinking hats you must wear during any entrepreneurial journey. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to a problem, but if youth have to face business challenges without a practical foundation that has prepared them in advance, we are setting them up for failure. Consequently, the entrepreneurship curriculum should balance theory that teaches critical thinking necessary for an entrepreneur, as well as practical applications to prepare them mentally as problem-solvers.

According to the African Development Bank, each year 10 to 12 million African students finish their education and compete for three million jobs, resulting in sub-Saharan African youth becoming entrepreneurs by necessity, not by choice. Africa, including South Africa, needs more entrepreneurs because they are the driving force behind innovation, job creation, and economic growth. Integrating entrepreneurial programmes in the education curriculum, can boost skill acquisition, capacity building, entrepreneurial development, and economic growth and development in South Africa.

Helping SA’s future entrepreneurs

Apart from the government who needs to invest in and interrogate the school curriculum, there is also a responsibility on our country’s businesses to invest in the youth to create employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. This could be through internship programmes that teach entrepreneurial skills in a practical setting, connecting school learners with entrepreneurs through a coaching and mentorship programme (by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs), or offering free industry workshops.

Apart from imparting critical knowledge and learnings, these platforms will also underline the realities of entrepreneurship to youth. Mainly due to misconceptions created by social media, it is important that aspiring entrepreneurs understand that overnight success is a myth. A combination of hard work, constant commitment, shared value, and ongoing learning is the only formula that will take a business from a concept to a commercial success.

Currently, only 1 in 9 South Africans starting an enterprise is a youth (Source: Global Entrepreneurship Monitor). By adapting South Africa’s school curriculum to more accurately reflect an entrepreneur’s needed skillset and career path, the youth’s preparedness for business success can start changing these statistics and steer South Africa’s next generation into an entrepreneurial future.

* Reon Barnard is a mining entrepreneur and builder of businesses. He is the Director of Barrock, Chairman of The Sekta Group, Director and Shareholder of Jabali Mining Services, and Co-Founder of BCR Holdings, and CEO of Tabono.