Primary school grooms entrepreneurs of the future
Economic terms such as scarcity, means of production, profits and business plans are essential in the vocabularies of business school students. But preschool and primary school students at the Chartwell Leadership Primary School understand and practise these terms.
During an additional hour of tuition a day, staff and students dabble daily in the ABCs of entrepreneurship and business. Midway through an entrepreneurship lesson, a Grade 4 student explains that SA has to focus on developing the four means of production — land, capital, labour and entrepreneurship — to solve its economic problems.
"Using the four means of production will help all South Africans to produce and sell products and help them to support their families," the student says poignantly.
Slap-bang between the colliding worlds of affluence and poverty that characterise the northern Johannesburg suburbs — with opulent Fourways to the east of the school and Diepsloot’s shanties to the west — the school, nestled in a farm environment, incorporates entrepreneurship into its curriculum to prepare its students for the real world.
The founder and principal of the Chartwell Leadership Academy, Simon White, says the government missed an opportunity to boost this critical sector of the curriculum, which is why he returned to education six years ago.
"There has been enormous betrayal in letting the [education] situation rot to the extent to which it has," he says.
President Jacob Zuma coined the term "radical economic transformation" but has failed to ensure it in real terms, especially where it is needed the most — in the world of education.
Public education is mired in lamentable infrastructure and poor outcomes while being held ransom by politicking teachers’ unions and inefficient governance structures.
The Department of Basic Education has attempted to juggle the hot mess with multiple adjustments to curriculum content and method and by lowering pass standards in critical learning areas at public schools.
But it is achieving very little in fostering employable young people or a determined business-minded generation.
Government schools offer accounting, economic management science and economics, but only at secondary schools.
A plethora of researchers, including Fatoki Olawale and David Garwe, confirm that shortcomings in entrepreneurship education is one of the prime factors limiting the growth of the economy.
Entrepreneurs in SA face many challenges, such as poor access to markets and venture capital, which is all the more reason to teach children to have a productive mind-set from an early age
White believes that SA’s democratic governments should have focused on improving the quality of education because of the oppressive history of the country, which denied millions access to the economy.
The Chartwell students all agree that the world of production, markets and profit is not child’s play. "There is a lot of competition," a Grade 3 pupil says. "But you have to give you customers something more special than the other guy."
Entrepreneurs in SA face many challenges, such as poor access to markets and venture capital. White says this is all the more reason to teach children to have a productive mind-set from an early age.
The 2005 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor reports that most young South Africans do not believe they have the skills to start a business and that this may be attributed to the low proportion who have completed their secondary education.
Research commissioned by the Small Enterprise Development Agency in 2016 showed that the formal sector tended to be more educated; white; situated in Gauteng and the Western Cape; and with a higher income-generation than the rest of the population. But most small enterprises are black-owned and operate in the informal sector.
Development economist and co-founder of Rethink Africa Ayabonga Cawe says he was informally introduced by his mother to the world of entrepreneurship, but the subject wasn’t offered at school. Luckily, this sparked a curiosity and he taught himself the language of economics.
Youth Leadership and Entrepreneurship Development head Tebang Ntsasa says entrepreneurship is a "wholesome" subject that allows graduates from any field of study to engage in problem-solving. Our learning institutions continue to develop and release a generation of young people who are not ready to face the world of work or travel the journey of self-employment.
"This is simply because we have interventions and programmes that run in silos as opposed to working with learning institutions to solve the employability and self-employment challenges that we face," Ntsasa says.
Based on its 13-year track record in training township youth, Youth Leadership and Entrepreneurship Development was invited in 2017 to develop a leadership and entrepreneurial curriculum that will supplement the curriculum at the prestigious Future Nation Schools. The programme blends leadership and entrepreneurial skills with a project-based learning model with the aim of understanding and solving the core challenges faced by the education system.
Ntsasa says the sooner children think this way about the economy and how it affects their lives, the better.
Cawe says the need is becoming critical. What is missing is an organised way of exposing young people to entrepreneurship not just as survivalist necessity but as a means to solve problems where people are — in their villages, townships and in the cities. "We started creating a space during the career expos we had, to have problem-solving sessions based on the lived experience of the children we were working with, to make them aware that there is ‘opportunity’ even in their evident difficulty," he says.
At Chartwell, the children come from all walks of life. Some are from the nearby shanty towns and suburbs, while others transferred to the academy from some of the country’s leading private primary schools.
Ice lollies in summer, chicken eggs in winter and sweets all year round are some of the products the students sell on the weekends.
"I want to be an entrepreneur so I can create opportunities for my community ... to have jobs so they can support their families," says a Grade 2 student.