A recent survey found that only half of U.S. students feel engaged in school. Another poll shows that only half of college students feel their major led them to a good job. This is likely not a surprise to you. Statistics pointing to a flawed education system regularly clog our news feeds. Sadly, educators are often first to receive the direct criticism for gaps in student success and engagement. Well, I will tell you from the start-I am not going to do that here.

The Educator’s Role in Student Engagement

Educators are among the most intelligent, purposeful, and caring people I get to meet. They go to great lengths and endure so much to do important and impactful work. The lack of engagement in our schools isn’t because we don’t have caring or talented people in place to teach our kids. The problem is that our educational system does not give educators room to do what they do best. Instead, they are pummeled with endless assessments and forced to “teach to the test”. Is this exciting for students? No. Is this empowering? In certain ways yes, but some very important holes are left.

Of course, given the impossible task of trying to educate everyone with the same exact mechanism, the educational system is actually performing better than most would give credit. The unintended consequences that concern me most though, are that of engagement levels and of students not just getting things done, but actually “getting it”.

How Entrepreneurship Can Help Students

Enter, Entrepreneurship. If you want engagement, let a student start with an idea in their head; the one they have been thinking about. The one they haven’t really explained to anyone because there is no place or space for it to be tossed around and talked over in school. Acknowledge them, support them, let them take the lead. Give them a place and some training to actually do something with their idea. Now we are cooking with fuel – rocket fuel. Oh, and now math, English and science have clear meaning and applicability like never before. This is a missing link for our students. One that I have had the chance to see firsthand, when given to kids, changes the trajectory of their lives. Let me tell you a bit about my journey that led me to this passion.

After launching several ventures, having two small exits, and experiencing the immeasurable gift of failure, an unexpected opportunity unfolded for me. In a serendipitous twist of events, the details of which I will share another time, I found myself immersed in entrepreneurship education. Throughout this opportunity, I witnessed students, ranging from ages 7-18, begin to generate ideas, develop ventures, and pitch them in less than 10 weeks. I watched them deliver pitches that were not far from what I judged at the MBA level.

What always stood out to me most were the engagement levels of these students; some educators even characterized it as “almost too much to handle”. The energy was palpable and the impact was undeniable, making this unlike any other academic experience I had ever encountered.

One student in particular exemplifies the experience I continue to see again and again. Ethan, a second grader at the time, entered the program and he struggled to even make eye contact. When initially asked about his idea, he replied in a somber and soft voice, “Yeah, I know it sucks”. Although he had the courage to share his idea, he was light on confidence and underperformed in his delivery, to say the least. When I heard Ethan for the first time, it was immensely clear that he just needed some affirmation. I replied “Ethan! I love your idea. I want to hear more about it and talk about how you can make it happen.” An instant change came over Ethan. He went on to show engagement levels not seen out of him before, and stood on stage in front of 100 people with a microphone, absolutely kicking the doors down. What I witnessed with Ethan and the confidence he garnered through the developing of his idea, was a transformation and trajectory change that galvanized my life’s work. What transpired with Ethan and so many more students along the way, is my driver to get entrepreneurial education in front of kids, to help eliminate the staggering number of bored students.

A Powerful Compliment for Teachers

Most students don’t wake and think to themselves, “man I really would love to learn about Pythagorean Theorem today.” No. Students are not itching to learn many of the subjects they are forced to complete, in spite of the clear importance in them (reading, math, science…). How is a teacher to elicit student engagement? How are they to get students excited about these subjects? When engagement levels are low, learning is difficult. And if you don’t apply what you learn in real ways, how can it be retained? Entrepreneurship is a vehicle for real life learning application.

If you are wondering how this fits into the educational system, it is not as a replacement. Entrepreneurship is a powerful compliment. It should be a requirement for all students, as entrepreneurship isn’t just for entrepreneurs. The mindset, skills, and competencies developed are the most powerful forms of college and career readiness. Giving students access to entrepreneurship courses or units in high school, middle school, and even elementary school can equip students to thrive in the economy they are entering.

If you ever have the chance, I implore you to see the magic that is a student with their own idea. For that matter, a person of any age with their own idea. Something amazing happens when you are acknowledged, and someone believes in you and your ability to bring your idea to life.
If you are thinking this is just for the rare few that will actually launch a venture, I have mislead you. Entrepreneurship is the single most bona fide method to change your socio-economic standing. Studies show, however, that only 6.02% of the US adult population owns a business as their main job. While entrepreneurship education will arm that 6 percent niche in a superior way and maybe even lead an increased percentage of people to launch ventures, still the vast majority of people will not go down the startup route. But, entrepreneurship is so much more. Entrepreneurship is a mindset; a set of skills, and a resilience that is equally needed in the workforce.

Equipping Students for Success in a Changing Workforce

At BuildEd, we created the Value Launch Platform™ It helps remove the vast, hairy, and often intimidating connotation that the word entrepreneurship brings, and distills it to a clear, consumable, and even actionable approach. One that can (and should) be used by anyone, not just a person wanting to launch a new business venture. In other words, this mindset and approach applies as equally in a startup business venture, as it does in the modern every day workplace. Entrepreneurship empowers people to be valued members of teams, and the CEO’s of their own careers.

With studies showing that as many as 46% of jobs for people 30 and younger being in the form of an independent contractor role, the ability to add value (entrepreneurship) has never been in greater demand. Our current workforce will have seven career changes in the course of their career. The world, economy, and workplace students are entering is different than the one we even work in now. Gone are 20 year tenures and annual performance reviews, replaced with the equivalent of daily and even hourly reviews. Yes this is different. The rules are different, and what is required to survive (let alone thrive) is different.

Entrepreneurship is the Trojan horse and a powerful partner to core education. It is the compliment to truly begin to engage learners. It is passion and project based work. A recent poll from Junior Achievement showed 91% of millennials say they wish they had greater access to Entrepreneurial education programs. We need to meet the new generation where they are and arm them with the tools we know they will need to be successful. Tools that will change the trajectory of their lives. Entrepreneurship education can do just that.