Entrepreneurial excellence in school

New Millennium Learners

New Millennium Learners

Last week, Nelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission, launched “the Startup Manifesto campaign for entrepreneurial excellenceand we are all invited to sign it.

Among the various recommendations that have been made to sustain economic growth, two of them directly concern the education world:

-          Make teachers digitally confident and competent to rise to the challenge.

-          Teach our children the principles, processes and the passion for entrepreneurship from a young age.

There is a consensus about the need to engage teachers in inventing new teaching practices and encouraging them to fully utilise the new teaching technologies at their disposal. However, these two recommendations shouldn’t be read only as an individual invitation for teachers to change. The locus of responsibility shouldn’t be displaced exclusively to the individual teacher and prevent us from questioning the way most educational systems have developed potential resistance and constraints to change.

20 years ago, Seymourt Papert[1] wrote that technology was “going to displace school and the way we have understood school.” He saw the “fundamental nature of school coming to an end”. However, 20 years later, schools are still around and remain largely unchanged. The same buildings host the same classrooms with a standard spatial organisation and the same “curriculum dictatorship”, even though core curriculum has changed many times in every country. What is taught remains more important than what is learned.

The Manifesto rightly reminds us that schoolchildren belong to the generations raised in a context where digital technologies form an inextricable part of daily life. The so-called New Millennium Learners, “NML”[2], or digital natives[3], spend the same amount of time on electronic media per week as an adult in the workplace[4].  They can access knowledge when they want to and when they need to. School is, in fact, the only place where they can’t freely exercise these abilities, and it is true that the vast majority of teachers are still unable to use the technology to which they have access in a creative way for educative purposes.

It remains, however, unclear how schools should and could transform themselves to better respond to the needs of these “NML”, and more globally, to the needs of our economies.

We want teachers to change. But will we be able to invest heavily in teachers in order to recruit the best talents into teaching (and among the best, the very best in the most challenging schools)? Over the past four years, we have seen how uncertainties regarding economic growth rapidly translate into budgetary cuts in education.

We want teachers to instil their students with entrepreneurial spirit. But will we be able to transform our schools and classrooms into vibrant ecosystems, encouraging creativity instead of creating a new subject for an already jammed curriculum?

In this blog, I promote the idea that encouraging innovation at the school level should turn the teachers themselves into entrepreneurs. Teachers have to be further considered as “education entrepreneurs” themselves, and not only as a go-between in the entrepreneurship process. New partnerships will emerge between teachers, IT geeks, and investors (public or private), and these new entrepreneurs will not only transform the way our children learn at school but also sustain innovation and economic growth with new products and services.

Education entrepreneurship has to be encouraged in school and for school at the teachers’ level. EdTech innovative projects must flourish within schools if we want the Manifesto’s recommendations to have real and long-lasting effects.

A symbolic step towards the successful transformation of our teachers and schools supporting entrepreneurship would be to include at least one teacher in the Startup Europe Leaders Club. Europe will therefore send a clear message that education is not only considered as a tool but as a direct provider of growth and jobs.


[1] The Future of school, Discussion between Seymour Papert and Paulo Freire, Seymourt Papert, 2000

[2]     The New Millennium Learners: Challenging our Views on ICT and Learning, Francesc Pedró, OECD-CERI, May 2006.

[3]     Mark Prensky, creator of the expression “digital native”.

[4]     From consumers kids to sustainable childhood, Editor: Daniel Yeow, Worldwatch Institute Europe, 2012 (Danish survey: “Totalling 41 hours and 30 minutes a week in front of a screen; children’s media use is essentially the same as an adult’s working week”.

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