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Entrepreneurship in Education

Jonathan Ortmans on April 06, 2009 Source: Policy Dialogue on Entrepreneurship

Last week, I argued in favor more high-skilled immigration to bringadditional entrepreneurial talent into the country for the near future.Today, I want to focus on an urgent policy issue that needs to beaddressed to produce results over the long-run. Improvements ineducation are essential to equipping American citizens withentrepreneurial skills. Creative thinking and prudent risk-taking areno different than any other skills people are born with; they arelikely to be useless unless the skill is developed through educationand experience.

Education in the U.S. is struggling to stay competitive, especially in the sciences. According to the Department of Education,among high school graduates, only 17 percent are considered proficientin math. Not surprisingly, our 15-year-olds . Not surprisingly, our15-year-olds placed 19th in science literacy and 24th in mathematics ina study involving 49 industrialized countries. Now we can see one ofthe reasons why few college students choose to major in engineering. Itis estimated that 1 in 20 U.S. college students major in engineering,much lower than in other developed countries.

Fortunately,America still leads in university education. Though in many schoolsentrepreneurship is still confined to the business school, manyuniversities have been promoting the study of entrepreneurship acrossall academic disciplines spurred by several insightful initiatives suchas the Kauffman Foundation’s Kauffman Campuses initiative thathelp seed cross-campus entrepreneurship programs at dozens of Americanuniversities. While these schools are taking different approaches, allinvolve faculty and students from a variety of academic disciplines. Assuch, these campuses are allowing young people to explore theirentrepreneurial potential.

Universities’ structures have enabledthis type of entrepreneurial thinking about education (though theystill have room for more innovative approaches). In contrast, the system of K-12 public education doesnot allow this kind of innovative environment where new providers andeducational forms constantly appear. Their top-down hierarchies inhibitinnovation. Teachers are not rewarded for being creative. There are ahundred different approaches to entrepreneurship education available,but their potential has not yet been fully exploited. For example, the GeoWorlds project is examining the impact of virtual learning environments on higher order thinking skills of urban high school students. Other new ideas includeimmersive learning, 3D Internet-based learning, and emerging softwareprograms. Of course, we also need to develop evaluation mechanisms forthese new approaches to measure positive youth development. Whileresults are still pending, these new approaches are at least helpingthe sciences get back their luster and attractiveness for students.

Ifwe want to create successful ventures and spur innovation in theeconomy, we need to bring entrepreneurship education into themainstream of teaching and learning at all levels. In order to do so,we should promote the design of new approaches to impartingtwenty-first century skills and knowledge through appropriateincentives for teachers and school authorities. Only by allowingeducators to be entrepreneurial can we hope to impart entrepreneurialskills among students.  I recently visiting with education experts atCouncil of Chief State School Officers and National School BoardsAssociation. I was encouraged and impressed that these organizationsunderstand this.  I hope our policymakers will back them up with thesupport they need to help our students unleash their smarts and talentsfor making jobs too.

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Jonathan Ortmans is a senior fellow at the Kauffman Foundation where he focuses on public policies to promote entrepreneurship in the U.S. and around the world. In addition, he serves as president of the Public Forum Institute, a non-partisan organization dedicated to fostering dialogue on important policy issues.

Category:  Education  Tags:  department of education, kauffman foundation, kauffman campuses

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