Tuesday, 6 March 2018
I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this Commencement matter. I am very conscious of the Minister's commitment to entrepreneurship in terms of education. I see reference to education in his jobs document. I want to keep this issue active. It is very active in certain schools but in others there is not much of a focus on it and we have got to ask ourselves the reason for that.
I have chosen to raise the five "Es", namely, engage, energise, enable, encourage and enterprise. When I talk about engage I mean how we can engage and communicate with younger people about the importance of entrepreneurship, business and all that goes with that. How can we energise, stimulate and be creative and innovative in terms of capacity building among young people regarding enterprise? How can we enable and encourage our young children to think critically and in a bigger way about enterprise and the importance of commerce in their lives? I believe we would find that young people by their nature are very enterprising. I can speak for myself in that regard. I recall keeping rabbits as a young child, brushing the Angora wool off them, sending it to the United Kingdom and getting British stamps in exchange, which I then had to sell to somebody else. Where people are given a yearning and a learning for enterprise they respond very well. I took the time to look at the Erasmus support, advanced learning and training opportunities, SALTO, participation EU programme and there are huge opportunities in that in terms of developing enterprise.
Every school should foster entrepreneurial skills through new and creative ways of teaching and learning and all young people should benefit from at least one practical entrepreneurial experience before leaving secondary school. I cite the mini-companies and mini campus companies.
I do not doubt the Government's commitment in this area. I do not doubt the Minister's commitment or that of the Department but we need to address the reason it is not happening to a greater extent in some schools and is happening in some schools over and above others. It is an important part of education. Education is more than formal learning. There is informal learning also, and we know from experience that one can learn to be an entrepreneur. I would like to hear the Minister's response.
I thank the Senator for raising this issue. This is an area in which I have a great interest. When I was Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation during the previous Government's period, I introduced a national strategy for entrepreneurship in Ireland.This was the first time it had ever been done. This amazed me because, following the difficult period in our history between 2009 and 2014, the teeth of the crash, many people set up their own businesses for the first time. Had they not done so, 100,000 fewer people would be at work. Their impact, even in the worst of times, is significant.
In good times, it is important we nurture entrepreneurship and develop a strategy in that regard. As the Senator rightly acknowledged, part of our action plan for this year is to produce a policy on entrepreneurship. It is important that we do this. We should set a national ambition that it will be part of our DNA to encourage entrepreneurship. One point I learned from my last ministerial job was that a wide range of factors helps a country be entrepreneurial and develop new businesses. One of them is culture and education. Of course, there are the financial services area, access to finance, government policy and so forth. However, the most enduring piece is to have the right attitude in encouraging people to take risks in their lives, cultivate curiosity, as well as the capacity to take on these issues, and that this is done from the earliest stage.
However, against the backdrop of the 2026 target to have the best education and training service in Europe, this is one area in which we need to do better. Ireland is one of the few countries in Europe which has not explicitly developed an educational strategy for entrepreneurship. This needs to be corrected. To be fair, our education system, along with the reforms we have made to it, has greatly cultivated creativity, problem-solving and the sorts of skills which are important to entrepreneurship. These are now embedded in our curriculum. Increasingly in the junior cycle, there is much more emphasis on self-led learning where one is encouraging an entrepreneurial spirit in the learning activity itself.
We have a wide range of excellent initiatives of mini-companies and local enterprise offices cultivating school competitions. There is much extracurricular work in encouraging young people to test their skills in an entrepreneurial environment. We can do more, however. We intend to develop guidelines for schools. Clearly, much can be done within the curriculum itself, along with the promotion of extracurricular activities. We can ensure education recognises the importance of risk-taking in its various curricular activities. It must also increase the exposure to entrepreneurs at an appropriate age. The transition year is a particularly important year when people can get exposure to different experiences. This too should be developed.
I am looking forward to working with experts in the field and practitioners at the coalface to develop a policy which will set us in the right direction for the coming years.