Lifelong Learning Platform | LLLP - European Civil Society for Education

The new approach in entrepreneurship education, a paradigm shift in the EU

This article was written by Ulla-Alexandra Mattl, with the contributions of Pauline Boivin, Andrew Todd and Brikena Xhomaqi as co-authors. It was originally published on the blog of the European Entrepreneurship Hub

“I am almost 18 and I have no idea about taxes, rent or insurance. But, I can analyse a poem. In 4 languages.” This tweet by the 17-year-old Naina sparked a debate in 2015 about the relevance of what students are learning in the classroom. Today, this debate is more important than ever if students are to obtain the skills and knowledge needed to be successful in the 21st Century.

A different perspective on entrepreneurship education 

As Europe faces numerous challenges, such as unemployment and the transformation of the world of work, the modernisation of education systems has become a hot topic. Reforms often fail because of strong cultural and structural resistance of traditional systems towards change in teaching methods and learning content. On the other hand, there is growing evidence-based knowledge combined with success stories on innovative ways of teaching and learning. While both aim to foster the ability of learners to thrive in their personal and professional lives, the traditional and modern conceptions differ in their view of what education should teach us and how. The first one is focused on academic knowledge and basic skills (literacy, science), whereas the new approach also covers transversal, so-called “soft skills” (e.g. interpersonal skills, problem solving). Traditional education concepts based on knowledge acquisition and the reproduction model “where there is one classroom, one teacher, one class, and one subject at a time”, are being increasingly questioned.

To learn how to entreprendre (French verb for “undertake”) not only means to be able to start a business, but also describes a set of attitudes and aptitudes. Because of that, entrepreneurship education is now widely promoted by the European Union through policy guidance and project funding. In the European reference framework, ‘Entrepreneurship and a sense of initiative’ is considered as one of eight key competences for lifelong learning. Indeed, beside added value in terms of skills and competences, fostering entrepreneurship education contributes to more business creation, innovation and aspirations for self-employment. In this sense, the challenge is trans-sectoral and should be tackled at the EU level through a collaborative approach in the fields of employment, enterprise, research and education (cf. EC, COM, Skills Agenda, 2016). Consequently, schools and educational institutions should re-think the competences and knowledge students need to succeed in work and life as well as the necessary support systems for embracing change in the 21st century.

A more balanced learning between ‘knowledge acquisition’ and ‘know-how development’

There is still no broad consensus on the definition of entrepreneurship. The most employed formula defines it as the ability to “turn ideas into action” (COM/EACEA/Eurydice, 2016). To help ensure a better understanding of the concept, an Entrepreneurship Competence framework – ‘EntreComp’ – has been developed at the European level.

One of this framework’s main conclusions is that entrepreneurship education consists of blended learning of both “hard/technical” skills and “soft/transversal” skills. It involves a certain attitude (motivation, independence), particular knowledge (broad understanding of the world we live in) and special skills (team player, establishing social activity). It also addresses a way of approaching and solving problems involving creativity and risk-taking, as well as the ability to plan and manage projects. When not aimed at creating a business, positive outcomes are expressed in terms of one’s ability to achieve self-determined goals.

Entrepreneurship Education therefore is one particular answer to designing curricula closer to the ‘reality of life’. Teaching entrepreneurship implies moving away from traditional theoretical approaches in favour of a learning-by-doing approach. The closer it gets to real-life experiences, the better the learning results are. That is why many practice examples in education take the form of creating “mini-companies” or company visits. Entrepreneurship education can also take place outside the classroom in non-formal and informal settings, for instance, with volunteering activities and community projects.

Lifelong learning entrepreneurship education’s greater value for EU society

While aspirations for entrepreneurship seem significant among the young population in comparison to older generations (Eurobarometer survey on entrepreneurship, 2012), disparities remain between EU Member States regarding its integration into education programmes. Some countries have a specific strategy for entrepreneurship education, while others tackle it through a broader strategy on education or economic policies (Eurydice, Entrepreneurship education at school in Europe, 2016).

A sound strategy for entrepreneurship education is a strategy embedded in a lifelong learning perspective. Entrepreneurship should be taught from a very early age, and should not only be business-oriented. It is a good opportunity to show how entrepreneurship education can help foster other types of activities, such as social innovation. This ensures broader outcomes, laying the ground for citizens’ empowerment to achieve “personal fulfilment, social inclusion, active citizenship and employability in a knowledge-based society” (cf. COM, 2012). Entrepreneurship education is key to relevant education in Europe, but can only be successful if it integrates cultural, interpersonal and civic competences. In order to be enterprising, these competences are now just as important as knowing finance or management. No one is born an entrepreneur, but there is much evidence that a larger part of the population can become one, if entrepreneurship education is mainstreamed into curricula.