For thousands of years children educated themselves through play and exploration.

Thereafter, the advent of agriculture led to the first industrial revolution which saw children labouring in sometimes unimaginable work conditions.

Australian public education emerged in the late nineteenth century and as the industry evolves through privatisation and institutions compete for enrolments, it is timely to reflect on the value of a 21st century education.

Nearly two decades into the new millennium, curriculum designers grapple with the paradigms of an education that may best serve the modern-day student.

As digital skills are built into the national teaching standards, it is increasingly difficult to adopt a Luddite’s approach to education.

Technological advancement is frantic and teachers juggle their workload with professional development to keep their skills current.

Ubiquitous job titles such as “influencer” and “social-media manager” occupy the employment landscape and the rise of the gig economy may lead to the redundancy of many current jobs.

In such a tumultuous climate, how do educators equip students to cope with an ever-changing economy?

Entrepreneurship
 

Startup culture is a growing trend and some soon-to-be founders are likely still in high school. According to data from the Startup Muster 2017 Report, 1.2 per cent of 2214 respondents were startup founders aged 20 or under, with a further 1.6 per cent in the same age bracket identifying as future founders.

Research by McCrindle revealed that the average Australian school leaver will have 17 jobs in their lifetime. Less common is the career path of a high school graduate who proceeds through tertiary education to ultimately end up in a “traditional” job.

In 2018, the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ trend participation rate for 15-24 year olds remained steady at 67.7 per cent, however, the inculcation of traditional employment values is falling on deaf ears and schools would be wise to reconsider the design of their curricula.

Liz Jackson is a former teacher with over a decade of experience across three state-based curricula. As Education and Program Director at startup.business, she advocates for entrepreneurship in education.

“I believe that more can be done to create communities of practice as young people cannot be what they cannot see,” Jackson says.

“Connect them with mentors and tertiary education institutions so they can see the variety of career opportunities available to them at an early age. We need to inspire the next generation to reflect on who they want to become as they grow, not just on what they want to do for a job."

Klaus Schwab, a renowned economist and author of The Fourth Industrial Revolution, founded the World Economic Forum and published The Future of Jobs Report identifying top skills required by 2020.

In support of Schwab, Jackson cited complex problem-solving, critical thinking, and creativity as the most valuable skills for 21st century students.

The future of education

Jackson has collaborated with startup.business co-founders Jo Burston and Dr Richard Seymour. Burston, a serial entrepreneur was alarmed that many young people did not consider having a business, creating a job or being an entrepreneur a viable career choice.

Seymour, who operates entrepreneurship education and research programs in South East Asia teaching over 6,000 women in rural and regional areas how to build businesses, wanted startup.business to inspire young people.

In 2018, startup.business have partnered with AgriFutures Australia to deliver an immersive initiative that introduces secondary students to the startup scene, helping solve the problems in Australian agriculture.

Seven schools were initially selected for the Pilot Program, but 31 schools have benefitted from startup.business’ programs to date.

“Students are seeing things differently and extending their thoughts. My mindset is developing and it makes me think differently as a teacher about how I can shape the learning of my students on an individual level. We are collectively seeing things we didn't realise existed,” Gavin Saul from Kempsey High School says.

“It is the most engaged the class has been!” teacher Tricia Yandell reports.

The Loxton High School educator endorsed the Pilot Program for allowing “...teachers and students to work together and solve problems that are contextually relevant. It exposes them to new problems they didn’t know existed. It is about partnerships where young people see, think and do". 

According to Jackson, the startup.business trio have big plans including “a Stage 6 endorsed curriculum for entrepreneurship and innovation piloted by 2020 and additional accredited courses at the Lead and Highly Accomplished levels to complement our existing Proficient accredited courses that align with the Australian Teaching Standards".

“More needs to be done to add to the pedagogical toolkit for teachers. It is paramount to student success that teachers gain the practical nous to maximise the impact of the learning journey for each student,” Jackson concludes.

Through such an initiative, education may return to its humble origins of play and exploration.