Embedding Entrepreneurship in Our Education Culture

We may be witness to a tectonic shift at the Department of Education and small business should be pleased. Recognition is finally being given to the Ivany suggestion that for far too long Nova Scotia’s schools have valued raising public servants rather than entrepreneurs. The result of this refreshing direction of thinking is the inclusion of the voice of the business community in the P-12 education system.

The shift in thinking also seems to have been ignited by the shockingly dismal statistic that only 12 per cent of Nova Scotia’s students envision themselves as future entrepreneurs.

This fall, the department will create a Business-Education Council. It is, in the words of the action plan, “a forum where business can identify the skills and attributes students need to be successful, create a database of entrepreneurs to serve as mentors, support teachers’ awareness of economic growth sectors and the importance of developing entrepreneurial skills across the curriculum.” Bravo. It’s about time.

There are a variety of other positives in this initiative including expanding the delivery of Junior Achievement and embedding and updating entrepreneurship courses. CFIB is hopeful Nova Scotia’s entrepreneurs will find time to contribute to this opportunity.

In recent surveys, CFIB members are expressing dismay with the qualifications of young people who are coming into the workforce poorly prepared for real world challenges. Many business owners tell us they find both the quality of applicants and the work ethic of new hires have deteriorated in recent years, particularly when recruiting for entry-level jobs. There are also serious gaps in finding workers for higher skilled jobs resulting from disconnects in our education system.

For example, when the shipbuilding contract was awarded, the department was quick to highlight the creation of training programs to fill what was seen as an immediate need for welders, pipe-fitters, electricians, etc. While these are useful and praiseworthy trades, the glaring omission was the tremendous opportunity the shipbuilding contract offers in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector.

Naval warships are second only to spacecraft in the advancement of technological innovation. Most of our computing advances of the 20th century are rooted in NASA and military applications. Along with biotech and other digital start up opportunities, Nova Scotia is poised to become an epicenter not just corporate development, but also growth of small and medium-size businesses in ICT.

So it is good news to see the Minister announcing that coding will finally be introduced in Nova Scotia classrooms next year. Until this week`s announcement, coding and computational thinking has been largely absent from our school curriculums. Yes, children must be given a strong, broad based education in the early years focused on numeracy and literacy, but options must be available as they progress through late elementary and junior high to understand code, the working language of the tech sector. It’s great to teach Gaelic, but C++, Java and Python may be a tad more useful in the workplace of the 21st century. Pardon the pun, but it’s about time we got with the program.

Imagine if we are able to create an education system where other western school systems look for best practices in ICT education, where learning about the development of ICT is as important as using it, where parents wish to immigrate to educate their children in these areas and where businesses want to locate because of the base of ICT talent.

There are other positive signs. Spurred by private sector investors and supported by the province, Brilliant Labs is establishing spaces where young children can grasp the fundamentals of technology and design through interactive workshops. Acadia University’s high school robotics competition could also be a game-changer, but the fact remains, beyond bringing in IBM and Google consultants to orient existing teachers, there is a need for systemic change to grow our capacity to teach coding, CS and entrepreneurship.

Acadia University’s Master’s level teaching programs is producing a very small stream of new teachers who have a background in CS. For this to be successful however, we need the department of education to do what it must to keep these teachers in Nova Scotia. That means plans to create teaching positions for those who are qualified to instill not just the spirit but also the competencies of entrepreneurship in our next generation.

There are tremendous opportunities for contributing to society and personal success available through entrepreneurship and CFIB is delighted the Department of Education has identified this as a priority. We wholeheartedly support the establishment of the Business-Education Council.

Let’s hope this government’s action plan takes root in the department. Let’s also hope along with public service and personal growth, innovation, the development of a strong work ethic, creation of personal wealth and local economic prosperity are also seen, as they are by entrepreneurs, as important measures of success.

This blog post also appeared in the online version of the Halifax Chronicle Herald on October 24th, 2015


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