Teaching entrepreneurship in high schools

Entrepreneurship is something that can be taught and fostered in schools and has gained rapid acceptance and momentum in the last five years.

Dr Anna Jenkins
Dr Anna Jenkins, Senior Lecturer,
School of Business

Although teaching entrepreneurship in high schools has only recently taken off in Australia, teaching entrepreneurship has a long history dating back to the late 1970s when universities started to create courses and programs focused on entrepreneurship. 

What can we learn from over 40 years of teaching entrepreneurship to ensure we adopt best practice in our schools?

1. What is entrepreneurship?

To understand how entrepreneurship can be taught, we need to consider what entrepreneurship is.

While there are many different definitions of entrepreneurship, it can be beneficial to take an inclusive approach conceptualising entrepreneurship as a multi-faceted phenomenon that focuses on bringing new (but not necessarily novel) products to market and that this can take place in a range of contexts.

These can include startups, corporates, small businesses, social enterprises and non-government organisations, where adopting entrepreneurial thinking facilitates this process of bringing an idea to market.

Given the range of context where entrepreneurship can take place, what becomes critical is matching what we teach and the tools we use to context and learning outcomes we aim to foster in our students.

2. How to teach entrepreneurship

Given there is no all-encompassing definition of entrepreneurship, it is unsurprising that there is also no all-encompassing set of tools which can be used to teach entrepreneurship. Rather, what has emerged is a philosophy which guides how we teach entrepreneurship and a range of tools and approaches that have been designed to facilitate teaching the different facets of entrepreneurship.

What underpins this philosophy is achieving a balance between providing students the content knowledge they need to engage in entrepreneurship practices, for example, an understanding of what makes an idea worth pursuing and how to come up with such ideas, with opportunities to meaningfully apply this knowledge in practical situations.

What is critical is that the practices we teach are firmly grounded in theory and best practice. Too much focus on content knowledge with limited practical application leaves students knowing about entrepreneurship but little insight into how to apply this knowledge.

On the other hand, too much practical application without sufficient grounding in theory leaves students unsure of why they should engage in a practice and the boundary conditions as to when a practice is likely to have a positive impact on their entrepreneurial initiatives. To achieve the balance, focus content on why, how and when a practice should be used, and create practical applications through having students work on their own ideas, the ideas of others or provide them with situation-based case studies that put them in the shoes of the entrepreneur.

There is now a range of tools to facilitate teaching entrepreneurship. Stemming from the Lean Startup movement, there are now online tools such as the Value Proposition Canvas and the Business Model Canvas to support students in identifying a product, which creates value for a specific target customer and a business model to support the creation and delivery of the product.

To foster an entrepreneurial mindset, effectuation provides an approach for students to focus on creating actionable ideas and a way of thinking about goal setting and resources to help them overcome the inherent uncertainty that comes with creating a new product. Although business planning has fallen out of favour, it is a useful approach when students are focusing on a small business where there is sufficient information about the prices of goods for them to estimate demand and calculate things such as the breakeven point.

3. Who should teach entrepreneurship?

With an increase in acceptance that entrepreneurship can be taught, the question shifts to who should teach entrepreneurship. Just as the conceptualisation of entrepreneurship is inclusive, who can offer insights into the phenomenon of entrepreneurship should also be inclusive. Entrepreneurs, mentors, investors and educators all play an important role in facilitating and teaching entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurs provide unique insights into what it is like to be an entrepreneur, what worked for them and what didn’t. They illuminate the importance of different tools through their experiences and can provide mentoring, networks and support to student entrepreneurs.

Educators play an important role in explaining and engaging students in the content knowledge and provide opportunities for students to engage in entrepreneurship. They provide an understanding of different tools and concepts, the boundary conditions of different approaches and how the different approaches relate to each other. They can synthesize across the different experiences of entrepreneurs to bring out best practice. 

Last updated:
12 January 2021