Jim Duffy: I could teach educators a thing or two

The big question I hear at economic development meetings I attend is: how can we produce more entrepreneurial types in Scotland who will start and grow new businesses? More new entrepreneurial ventures equals more jobs created and taxes paid '“ more innovation and prosperity. This kinda makes sense and I am a big champion of it.
More needs to be done to encourage entrepreneurial spirit in youngstersMore needs to be done to encourage entrepreneurial spirit in youngsters
More needs to be done to encourage entrepreneurial spirit in youngsters

Then the discussion moves to our education system and how it is not producing individuals who are properly equipped to start new ventures or work in them. Our secondary school teachers simply teach a curriculum and appear to be judged on the results that the students get: five Highers and all that... As a father I attended the meetings in school with my own daughters where the discussion focused on how they were “tracking” in securing an “A” or a “B”. I hear people suggest that secondary school is where the creativity and entrepreneurial zest is squeezed out of our young people. It’s all the teacher’s fault and Robin Williams’ in Dead Poets Society is just a piece of fiction, it is argued. Well, my question is: what are we doing to help teachers think and act more entrepreneurially?

The typical life of a teacher goes like this. They leave school with a decent enough set of qualifications. They have an appetite for one subject that they are pretty good at. This could be languages, geography, English or PE. They then apply to university and spend four years studying to get a degree in that subject. They may have weekend jobs working in coffee shops, clubs or Tesco. They may do a summer or two in America at a kids’ summer camp, discover alcohol and do a bit of travelling. They then graduate and enter a 12-month teaching course that qualifies them to teach their chosen subject in a secondary school. They then apply to schools that they fancy and, once accepted, start teaching. Then 20 years later having undergone wee bits and pieces of in-house training, they are still there teaching the same old subject. And we wonder why these precious souls do not possess any understanding of real life.

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As part of a plan to equip secondary school teachers with a new attitude and create some attitudinal change, I created a one-day programme that I would deliver to them. A certain local authority (names withheld to protect the innocent) offered the course to over 500 teachers. We gave them three month’s notice for the course that would run on a Saturday. Guess how many turned up? Lower… No, lower… only 20. The reasons for this may be plentiful. Some would just not give up a day of their weekend. Some did not see the value or need for it. Some would not attend unless they got paid or a day in lieu. My takeaway from this is that our teachers have no real motivation to want to go that extra mile as they have had the s*** kicked out of them with curriculum changes; the focus on the attainment of five Highers and the like; lack of facilities; and a general lack of leadership. I wonder if it is not time to create some attitudinal change in our schools so teachers can develop themselves? After all, they are a vital resource and crucial to the economic prosperity of our country.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could get our teachers out of the classroom and into a start-up business for a week? Get them working with people who operate under extreme conditions of ambiguity, where it’s do or die with no guarantee of a paycheck at the end of the month.

Get them into the mindset of what it means to have to spin multiple plates at the same time, while blindfolded. Get them using many of the skills they have to solve problems and work until 9pm on stuff as no-one else is there to do it. Get them to understand what “skin in the game” means, start-up culture and the multitude of ways things can go wrong. No timetables, staff rooms, wages paid, car parking space or union to protect you. I think this week would be just fabulous for our teachers opening up their eyes to the world of the entrepreneurial venture. And just think what it could do for them back in schools as they look at the kids sitting in front of them, knowing what now awaits them.

Yes, this would cost money, but is the real cost to us not giving our hardworking teachers an experiential boost to their understanding of the destinations students will end up in? Is the real cost to us not enabling our teachers to change their own mindsets as they sample 21st-century entrepreneurship first hand in a realistic way outside the classroom?

In Scotland, we keep talking about moving the dial in economic development. We have some great people working on this in the Scottish Government.

We quite rightly focus on the businesses that are starting and growing. They are the seeds right under our noses. But, what of the people who have sown those seeds for years, the teachers? For sure, as a group they have got to want to get involved. But imagine how it could really help them as they deliver curriculums, tooled up with some empirical experiences of what they are teaching for….

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