Dáil debates

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

8:00 pm

Photo of Tom McEllistrimTom McEllistrim (Kerry North, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this important issue.

As business is the engine that keeps the country running and drives the local and national economy, perhaps it is time that we considered the enhanced fostering of entrepreneurship in schools and its gradual development as a formal subject. I recently received correspondence from a young and enthusiastic secondary teacher who, after involvement in the young entrepreneur programme, YEP, in County Kerry became convinced that entrepreneurship should become a subject at second level.

As part of the programme, students at both second and third level come up with a business idea, research it and submit a comprehensive business plan. Following assessment and shortlisting, they must pitch their business idea to a panel of business people who decide on 12 finalists. They then go forward to the final where they make a concluding pitch and face questions from a panel of nationally recognised experts. The winner is later announced at a gala evening attended by all - students, teachers, mentors and organisers. The YEP and similar projects in other parts of the country demonstrate the huge potential of students. Those who did not study business but who recognised gaps in the market excelled in making business plans. Many students completing the programme have a business plan for potentially viable business ventures. The experience gained in the programme arms students with the tools to better themselves and their communities. The skills learned will stand to them in whatever careers they choose.

The global economic downturn has led to a focus on the need for job creation and competitiveness to stimulate the economy into recovery. Large scale businesses and multinationals across the country are important in providing jobs but so too are the small and medium enterprises scattered across every county. The fostering of entrepreneurship in our young people, through education, is the way forward. Given the right stimulation and support, their initiative and perception could lead to the innovation needed to create new opportunities for business and for jobs.

Traditional enterprise programmes tend to teach the theoretical side of enterprise and the formulation of business plans but there is also a need to be more hands-on and practical in our approach. Making the programme examinable would give it greater credence and put the emphasis on the student taking control of their own learning. The involvement of the wider community will allow the students to derive practical knowledge from the learning pool of local established ventures through work placement and mentoring components. Students will gain self-esteem and confidence, improving their ability to research and improving their interpersonal skills, information communication technology skills, problem solving skills, accountancy and economic skills and responsibility, adaptability and independent learning. These are all important skills not only in business but in life.

Regardless of whether these students take up a career in business, these skills and a can-do spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation will stay with them in any future career they choose. It is a win-win situation. The aims and objectives of promoting entrepreneurship in schools would allow our young people the prospect of becoming self-reliant on their own initiatives, teach them how to develop their business plans, give them the necessary tools to implement their business ideas and encompass the wider community collectively in stimulating economic growth through the implementation of business ideas through to start-up businesses. It would ignite young people's passion and pride in their country and, therefore, the motivation to develop the indigenous industries that make their country economically sound. It would also foster a positive attitude and understanding of all aspects of business and promote maturity in all aspects of life, personally and socially.

The fostering of entrepreneurship would involve a coalition of partners in which each partner would be a cog in the wheel of success. Each would serve different functions and roles, ultimately achieving the same goal, which is to bring entrepreneurship to life, to bring to students an understanding of the business world and, potentially, to bring their ideas to a successful conclusion, that is, a profitable enterprise.

I understand there would be major practicalities involved in expanding these projects into leaving certificate subjects and considerable research and development would have to be done in advance. However, a review of current entrepreneurship projects in various parts of the country would be an excellent place to start. The Department could investigate why they were successful, what is to be learned from good practice, what could be improved, how the local business and school communities interacted and the dividend both for community and students involved. At the very least, projects such as YEP should be expanded and supported throughout the State. Business will drive our country forward and out of recession. Mol an óige and tiocfaidh sé.

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I am taking this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue and I welcome this opportunity to outline the position in on entrepreneurship in schools. At a European level, the EU Commission has identified enterprise as one of eight key competences all students should have by the end of second level education. The Commission defines enterprise as being able to make change happen, as well as being able to support and adapt to change, taking responsibility for ideas, setting objectives and meeting them, and being motivated to succeed. My Department supports enterprise in schools through the development of core skills in the curriculum such as literacy and numeracy, ICT, higher order thinking and problem solving; ensuring an appropriate basket of competences in junior and senior cycles; and specific programmes in enterprise in senior cycle.

One of the principles underpinning the primary school curriculum is that the child's higher order thinking and problem solving skills are developed. Through the curriculum, the child is encouraged to observe, to ask relevant questions, to recognise the essence of a problem, to suggest solutions and to make informed judgements. These skills are fundamental to engendering enterprise in our young people. At junior cycle level, an enterprise culture is promoted by ensuring an appropriate range of competences through a broadly based programme encouraging investigative approaches and offering science, ICT, languages, technology and a range of academic and practical subjects. These offer a foundation for active citizenship and lifelong learning.

In senior cycle students taking the transition year option, the leaving certificate vocational programme and the leaving certificate applied are provided with specific opportunities to acquire enterprise skills. These programmes place a strong focus on active learning, community-based approaches, personal development and teamwork. Students also engage in work experience. As part of transition year, which is now taken by 50% of students, Mini-company is among the range of options supported. Mini-company is a tuition programme and class activity undertaken over the period of the transition year. After generating the business idea, the company is set up and registered, different students assume the roles of different actors in the company - chief executive officer, production manager, human resources, industrial relations, finance, etc. The same process is gone through leading to the production of the product or service, the accounts, the business report, and also the winding down of the company, and the presentation and interview process.

Enterprise education and preparation for work are the link modules which form an explicit part of the curriculum within the leaving certificate vocational programme. In the leaving certificate examination this year, the link modules were taken by 15,596 candidates. The enterprise dimension of the programme is designed to give students the opportunity to meet enterprising people and investigate business and community enterprises. As part of the modules, students are encouraged to set up their own enterprise projects as vehicles of learning at home, in a school, in the community or in business. The vocational preparation and training aspects of the leaving certificate applied, taken by 3,358 students in 2010, also include enterprise and work experience dimensions.

The leaving certificate business syllabus has a strong focus on enterprise. The syllabus is designed to provide a clear understanding of the role of enterprise and to develop in students a positive and ethical attitude to enterprise in personal, business and public life. The syllabus covers the relationships of people in a business environment; handling conflict; identifying, marketing and starting a business; the domestic and international environment; entrepreneurs and enterprise skills; and their application to different situations. In the leaving certificate in 2010, some 18,790 students sat business. It will be seen, therefore, that enterprise is an intrinsic part of the curriculum in senior cycle supported by continuing professional development programmes and resources for teachers.

The county and city enterprise boards organise a student enterprise award scheme in second level schools and Youthreach centres. Students are required to generate the business idea, research it, undertake a risk assessment, produce the product or service, market it, prepare costings and accounts and a business report. In 2009 for the first time, the top three winners of the transition year mini-company "Get Up and Go" competition and the CEB student enterprise awards were presented with the Seán Lemass award for enterprise by the Taoiseach. There was also media coverage, including on "The Late Late Show", of businesses developed by students in the competitions. This was the first year of the Seán Lemass award and it reflects a commitment in the Government strategy "Building Ireland's Smart Economy: A Framework for Sustainable Economic Renewal" to raise the profile of these competitions and encourage more second level students to participate in enterprise programmes.

Enterprise does not relate only to setting up a business and there are other examples across the school system which promote the skills which underpin an enterprise culture. Young Social Innovators is an initiative to promote social awareness among students and is available for schools providing the transition year programme. The students are encouraged to identify a social issue, research it and engage in an action plan to promote change. The skills of teamwork, research, planning, evaluation, critical reflection and active citizenship are developed. The results are showcased in an annual exhibition and award scheme. Some of the projects can result in social enterprises being explored. Some 6,000 students annually take part. The Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, now the largest and longest running exhibition of its kind in Europe, is another example of the innovation and creativity which is being fostered and promoted in our schools.

In addition to the above, a variety of voluntary and other agencies have been promoting links between schools and business, either in the form of junior achievement or the business in the community schools business partnership programme concentrating on schools serving disadvantaged communities. This work is also supported extensively through the county enterprise boards and chambers of commerce.

We are continuing to promote key skills and active learning as part of ongoing curriculum reform. The junior cycle review currently under way will present new opportunities to strengthen these skills and promote enterprise, creativity and innovation in our schools.

I thank the Deputy once again for raising this matter.