Reforming the education system for a new world of work

Following yesterday’s rant about inspiring tomorrow’s entrepreneurs in our schools, I stumbled across this worrying trailer from a forthcoming US movie:

(Note that the UK came 18th in this league and there are lottery systems here too).

Then there are the following dependable words of wisdom from Sir Ken Robinson:

Both videos are humbling.

In the words of Jamiroquai :

“When are we gonna learn?”

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Inspiring tomorrow’s entrepreneurs in school

I had an interesting conversation recently with a teacher who works at a local prestigious private school. He enthused about the private education offered by the school e.g. the high educational attainment levels, freedom from following a rigid curriculum and the worldwide travels and life experiences for the lucky pupils. All highly impressive until he got to the careers that the majority of the pupils go on to follow:

“…our pupils go on to become lawyers, accountants, bankers, doctors or work up to senior management in the local multinational companies…”


As a chartered accountant with a law degree who has held the position of senior manager within a local multinational company, I’m qualified to guffaw with disappointment!

I managed to utter:

“Do many go on to start their own businesses?”

The answer was a predictable “no”. This was swiftly followed by a 20 minute rant from me (poor guy) about how we need more entrepreneurs, more wealth creators and business owners and how we need to inspire them as early as possible. To show kids that there is an alternative to a “prestigious job” within the professions or in industry and to plant the entrepreneurial seeds during their schooling.

I questioned whether it would be possible to set a week aside as some sort of “Enterprise Week” within the school – a week dedicated to developing tomorrow’s young entrepreneurs?

This could kick off with an inspiring talk by a successful entrepreneur. This would get the kids enthused and ready for the fun and exciting week ahead. The pupils would be put into mixed teams ready to take on a week long intensive project. The actual outcome is far less important than the learning but the project could be framed around solving a customer or consumer problem (like the best entrepreneurial ideas usually do) with a view to each team presenting their proposed product, service or solution at the end of the week.

Each day could have a different theme or focus such as:

  • Monday – innovation techniques, brainstorming, strategy etc
  • Tuesday – team dynamics, character traits, building a team etc;
  • Wednesday – defining target markets; supply chains and distribution;
  • Thursday – branding, marketing and turning customers into mad raving fans;
  • Friday – presentation / pitching skills building to a (friendly) Dragons’ Den type event with external participants from the local business community

Each stage could be faciliated by external specialists. The week would be activity and experimentally driven i.e. minimal class room style teaching. Mistakes would be encouraged and celebrated as it takes the teams closer to a better solution.

Who knows it might even lead to the creation of solutions that are better than those delivered by the ‘real world of work’?

Is this already happening? If so, please let me know as I would love to get involved or at least shout about it here.

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Enterprise UK Class of 2010 Make their Mark with a Tenner

Enterprise UK has just announced its finalists in its Make Your Mark with a Tenner campaign.

The 25 trail-blazing finalists include:

a 15 year old who runs an online advertising service while still at school (and works with big hitters like William Hill and MySpace to boot) and a 19 year old who set up a swimwear boutique using her own personal savings.

At a time when the UK desperately needs more promising young people to view entrepreneurship as a viable career, it is refreshing to see such initiatives seeking to instil a sense of enterprise, resourcefulness and business nous amongst our school pupils.

This is an area close to my heart, as both a father and advisor to start-up and fast growth small companies. We desperately need more kids and students to consider alternatives to the mainstream accepted path of higher education followed by a graduate job. We need more entrepreneurs and for this to take shape we need a change of attitude and policy for training the minds of our brightest kids at school.

I remember we had a ‘tuck shop’ in our school which sold (teeth-rotting) sweets – healthier alternatives might be more appropriate today! – however, it provided an opportunity for its volunteer pupils to gain a valuable  glimpse of hands-on business enterprise. But there must be opportunities for all schools to encourage its pupils to get involved e.g. collaboratively run one large school enterprise or run a variety of targeted smaller businesses within the safe confines of the school?

Meanwhile, we should be encouraging our students to set up businesses alongside a University degree course (particularly if their degree is remotely linked to business) given that the barriers to entry of running a start-up business is getting lower and lower – after all, if a 15 year old can compete with William Hill and My Space on a tenner whilst balancing with school work, then surely there’s hope for the entrepreneur in all of us…..?

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Is our Education system ready for a New World of Work?

Technology is evolving fast.  It is changing everything – from home to the workplace. Although many businesses are wrestling with these changes, others are already seeing the benefits of collaborative working, knowledge sharing and real-time communication that technology advancements can bring. From my perspective, barely a month goes by without another game-changing possibility being introduced e.g. a new productivity, marketing, communication or some other channel or tool.

We are entering a New World of Work.

It is crazy to think that when I was at Uni (‘only in’ 1993-1996), we had to

  • queue to use the telephone kiosk to phone home (mobile phones were not readily available),
  • hand-write all course-work, assignments etc (some students typed them on ‘wordprocessors’ but they were the ‘v early adopters’) and
  • email was at its v beginnings of becoming mainstream (“what? you can send a message for……FREE???!!!”).

When I started my professional training-contract at KPMG in 1997 I recall firing up my laptop with trepidation…. Microsoft Office was a new world that was set to become a staple part of my working day.

At home today, I am continually amazed by how naturally my 6 year old interacts with technology. It is an everyday norm for him. He is a Digital Kid. He can log into Club Penguin and other (protected) online gaming platforms without assistance. He uses the mouse tracker pad with ease and can find his way around the keyboard to interact with the gaming experience without fuss. He loves it and, here’s the interesting bit, it has without doubt accelerated his reading, questioning and strategic thinking abilities.

Although we keep tabs on the time he spends on the Mac Book playing online children’s games, Nintendo DS and Wii, I am relaxed about him getting to grips with technology at this early age as – let’s face it – an advanced competence in technology is going to be a key life skill for his generation (hey, this requirement is already pretty much here).  Plus he enjoys it and learns in the process. A win-win. (the fact that it gives me a chance to indulge my old ZX Spectrum gaming skills has nothing to do with it!).

But what happens in our schools today to reflect these changes? Not enough from my perspective so far. Although the blackboard has now become a whiteboard with overhead projector and there’s access to a computer room, the rest seems pretty archaic. Lining up to go in, sat on a mat being read to, practising joined up writing for hours on end etc. Meanwhile, there’s a national curriculum that appears to have been designed in the dark ages.

If our UK children are to excel in the 21st century New World of Work we need to seem some changes – and fast.

We need children who are encouraged to:

  • think differently
  • question (everything)
  • find their passions and follow them
  • be au fait with latest technology and use it to interact and collaborate
  • be creative and inquisitive
  • pull together in different teams to work together and share their experiences
  • think and do – not sit and listen
  • be individuals who understand their talents and innate gifts.

The future of UK (/global) enterprise and the world of work needs Innovators. Leaders. Entrepreneurs.

Our education system needs to reflect this. It is impossible to know what job(s) my 6 year old son will carry out over his lifetime (most roles probably do not as yet exist), however, it is important that we equip our kids with an inquisitive, curious and questioning mind; confidence in utilising latest technology and an overriding focus on thinking skills and developing new, creative ideas and work (rather than an education system based on regurgitating known facts as has been the norm over the 20th Century- all pretty useless in a Google and Wikipedia New World of Work).

And then there’s my 3 year old…

Postscript: I was at VentureFest 2010 in Yorkshire today and was pleased to see what appeared to be a great deal of involvement of local high schools in tech projects, exhibitions and competitions which is promising…

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