Work-based Learning

Inspired by Doing: Entrepreneurial Education Helps Kids Find the “Why” in School

For many decades, school has been the place for getting theoretical education, and work experience happened later–in the workplace. If a kid had an entrepreneurial idea, it couldn’t come to fruition unless they were really motivated, well-connected, and had a lot of extra time outside of school to ideate, network, and tinker. Today, though, there’s an idea taking root that kids can learn about and develop the skills for entrepreneurship in school. We’re finally realizing that the total separation of work experience and school isn’t really all that helpful for kids; it’s even harmful. And, many young people, tired of being asked to be square pegs in round holes, are looking for and embracing opportunities to become young entrepreneurs. They’re inspired by their role models, they have—and aren’t afraid to voice—strong opinions on social causes, and they want to change the world. 

Change is afoot, albeit slowly. At ASU+GSV, a group of experts and professionals came together to talk about the power of entrepreneurial education to empower students to solve big challenges and make a difference. Those panelists were Margarita Geleske of Uncharted Learning, Jasmine Lawrence of EDEN BodyWorks, Myles Gage of Rapunzl Investments, Ryan Oliver of, and J.D. LaRock of the NFTE (Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship). 

Why does entrepreneurial education deserve a place in schools?

Here’s some context that justifies and explains the appetite for this movement: just 8% of young students surveyed by Gallup rated their school as doing an excellent job. When asked to describe how they felt in school in a single word, the words that were shared most commonly were “bored,” “stressed,” and tired.” When the students were asked what they wanted most from their school experience, they overwhelmingly said they want hands-on learning that prepared them for a job or a career. It’s clear that there is an urgent need and appetite for entrepreneurial education in school; for better connections between learning and earning. The sooner it starts, the better. 

What should youth entrepreneurship look like?

How can we overhaul the system to give kids what they want and need? The panelists had some great ideas and shared exactly where the focus needs to be. Here is a roundup of the three most important takeaways that came out of this conversation. 

  1. Give students a voice and a choice

We hear time and time again from young people that they don’t feel like they have much choice or agency over their learning experiences. Not interested in math? It doesn’t matter, because you have to pass algebra, geometry, and maybe calculus. The progression is linear and it’s often set in stone. What happens, though, when you let kids tailor their education to their unique interests and goals? Agency happens. Motivation happens. This isn’t the same as saying to kids, “You don’t need math in your chosen career so you can forget about it.” Instead it’s asking them up front what they like and want to pursue, and then helping them make the connections between the subject matter and their goals. Giving students voice and choice is about letting them fine-tune their schedules and experiences to suit their own desires and needs. What’s true for adults is true for children: when you find something you’re good at and when you have a say in how it happens, you feel encouraged to keep going.

  1. Integrate problem-based learning

Problem-based learning is about bringing real issues from the workplace and the wider world into the classroom. In problem-based learning, kids have to lean on and build their own critical thinking abilities, be resourceful, and develop the skill of asking the right questions of the right people. Problem-based learning gives kids a taste of what it’s like to do a real job; one where the answers aren’t simply printed in the back of a textbook. Educators can be as creative as they like when integrating problem-based learning. That might look like inviting business leaders into the classroom or connecting students with them online to ask questions about a business need. It might look like asking students to propose their own real-world problem that needs a solution. It could mean asking students to create or present case studies. It might mean asking them to interview peers and family members, build an app, come up with a business plan, design a better classroom or renovate a community space. Problem-based learning can be interdisciplinary, involve community organizations and family members, or happen entirely outside the classroom. No matter the type of problem-based learning, when kids know that the work they’re doing has real-life implications and connections, teachers can expect to see students who are highly motivated to get the job done. 

  1. Let kids leave to learn

It’s a fairly universal truth that some of the best learning happens outside the four walls of the classroom. As Elliot Washor asks in his book, Leaving to Learn, if this is something we all know, then why don’t we embrace it and make it count, instead of penalizing kids who leave? Leaving school to learn isn’t a bad thing. It’s something all kids should be encouraged to do. Leaving might mean completing an internship, apprenticeship, volunteer day, or work study program. Or, “leaving” could be something more abstract like logging into an educational gaming website or participating in an entrepreneurial online challenge. No matter how they leave, it’s important that kids have the space and freedom to explore their communities, digital spaces, and workplaces in ways that can help them envision their future and start building a bridge between learning and earning. Ideally we want to make these “other” experiences part of their school day. The best scenario of all is when kids are able to get real credit for the learning they’re doing outside the confines of the textbook, test, or classroom. 

You can listen to the entire conversation here