The only time I was ever grounded by my parents was in high school.
My mother had discovered a wad of hundreds of dollars in cold hard cash in my top draw and had assumed what all mothers fear most: that I was developing an expensive heroin addiction in my spare time.
Of course, my mother didn’t believe my excuse – that I was providing financial backing for my friend’s start-up ebay business; because everyone knows 15-year-old high-school students could not possibly start their own business. Right?
Since the dawn of time, high school has strived to beat the innovation and creativity out of young people, under the guise of preparing students ‘for the real world’. But these days, that ‘real world’ moves a lot faster than it used to, the age people are required to become real-world players is getting younger and younger.
Hanging around the higher education system long enough to get a PhD is no longer a recipe for guaranteed success and seems to me more likely to generate over-qualified socially-isolated, single people, living at home with their parents at the age of 27. (Or maybe I just hang in the wrong circles.)
The really successful entrepreneurs I know now in adulthood were the ones who were selling illicit homebrew from their backpacks when they were in high school; honing their practical business sense, developing their pitch, and building a pool of buyers – all in their lunchtime.
Finally, it seems the education system is catching up with reality. Young entrepreneurs are now being encouraged, rather than punished, for doing what comes to kids naturally.
In 2010, the Victorian Government set up a new body to facilitate school-to-business interactions, called the “Business Working with Education Foundation”. The aim of the Foundation is to help develop pathways for young people to become skilled in business practices whilst still in high school.
Just last month, Victorian Minister for Education Martin Dixon released an extensive plan for schools to move away from confined book learning, and allowing students to pursue non-traditional learning pathways. The idea is to give students a “competitive edge” by encouraging them to pursue whatever they are passionate about, rather than what they are forced to learn.
This new policy of freedom in education has allowed individual students in individual schools to pursue and develop their own interests.
Just one example of this is Templestowe College in Victoria’s north-east, where students are allowed to choose their own ‘Learning Mentors’ to help them set goals, and can develop their own business projects as a part of their personalised curriculum.
Principle Peter Hutton explains that, “the most successful employees and entrepreneurs in the future will be those who have both academic and practical skills”. Much more encouraging words than my own school principle, whose motto was “You! Go to the library.”
As with all new policies, only time will tell if this new era of education will actually work. Personally, I’m looking forward to a bright future of Australian entrepreneurship, where all students are free to run businesses out of their backpacks at lunchtime. Homebrew anyone?
Jayde Lovell is the director of the Melbourne Institute of Language Studies, and was once a regular contributor to Anthill Magazine. (We’re hoping that she’ll become a regular contributor again, with a bit of encouragement. So, please leave a comment below.)
Photo by Fernando de Sousa