Building The Entrepreneurs Of Tomorrow The role schools can (and need to) play in putting children on the path to business success

By Bill Delbrugge

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From the humble Postit Note to the iPhone, the most successful products solve problems. Whether it's an original solution, or one that identifies shortcomings within existing products and services, business success hinges on one simple premise: problem-solving. Consumers are always looking for smarter and faster ways of going about their daily lives. If a product or service provides a better solution, that business comes out on top, and so does society.

Entrepreneurs drive economic growth, contributing to national and global development, creating jobs, adding to national income and creating social change. By fueling innovative solutions to everyday problems, great entrepreneurs can dramatically change lives and improve standards of living. Locally, we can see that the UAE government prioritizes a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation, achieving a number one ranking for the "ease of starting a business" in the MENA region.

Before an MBA, before business school, and even before high school or middle school, fostering an entrepreneurial mindset starts much earlier than most people imagine. While schools must help students build a solid foundation in core subjects such as English, Math, Science, Social Studies, Technology and the Arts, they must also give students ample opportunities to develop their problem-solving and risk-taking skills, applying creativity and ingenuity to real world situations.

At Dunecrest American School, where I am the Director, we are fortunate to have an education program that is geared towards developing innovation and fostering entrepreneurship. American innovation is lauded worldwide, being among the highest number of patents filed per capita. We can attribute this to a holistic education program that drives a spirit of adventure, celebrating student achievement, integrating con tent and people skills, setting high expectations of honesty, teamwork and individual learning.

Beyond test taking, schools must emphasize real-world learning, which teaches students how to think critically. Teachers mentor and guide, while asking questions at a high analytical level, helping students persevere through hard problems and figure things out by themselves, moving beyond rote learning. While we need our children to learn multiplication, at the end of the day, in the age of technology, it's not about drilling tables, but the "why" that really gets them to think and innovate.

Related: Schooling For Tomorrow: Top Five Technologies That Will Reshape The Future Of Education

Based on historic college admissions data, and our 2019 PSAT (Pre-Scholastic Aptitude Test) career inventories, we find that about 50% of our students express a strong interest in studying business and management. Knowing this, our curriculum incorporates opportunities to develop problem-solving and a range of soft skills for future success as entrepreneurs and business leaders.

STEAM learning is one such approach that unleashes the creative juices of a students' mind. With a STEAM approach, project-based learning and cross curricular links- students learn to pull information and data together across different streams to find solutions to problems they have identified. Students are given a challenge, and they have to come up with an ingenious solution. Not only are they solving the problem, they are pulling from different subject areas (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics), bringing together a range of topics to find relevant solutions to real world problems.

For instance, our Grade 4 class is learning about the concept of "a circular economy." Under their teachers' guidance, students took a trip around the school to note what technology tools they feel should be included at school for students. Students research procurement and fundraising ideas, which they pitch to the school's business office. Linking to their Science project, students are already planning a farmer's market, selling crops grown in their hydroponic towers, which are more efficient than traditional farming methods.

Apart from problem-solving, we are continuously developing the soft skills that our students will need going forward in business careers. Presentation skills feature strongly within all our classes. Throughout the year, students are encouraged to present their projects to various audiences, whether it's older students, teachers, or parents. We teach them to be dynamic presenters, not just to read slides, but to make meaningful connections with their audience. When you come to Dunecrest, you will see teachers intentionally shaking hands with our students as we go through the building. We want them to know how to carry themselves with confidence, shake hands, make eye contact, and communicate their ideas as they meet people.

Extra-curricular activities too play an important role in fostering the tenacity, individual excellence, and teamwork required to succeed in business. You learn that you can't be a weak link, you have to find the intrinsic motivation to develop your own skills, so that you can contribute to the entire team. You learn also to break a complex task down into small drills.

In basketball, for example, many a game is won on a freethrow. If every player practices and perfects their free throws, being able to shoot on their own and not lose their nerve in the limelight, the team is that much stronger. In a band, if every team member performs at only 95%, the audience misses 5% of the notes from each musician, letting the entire ensemble down. In both cases, each team member has to pursue individual excellence, so that the entire team can be raised up and deliver a good performance. Similarly, in business, much of your success comes down to preparation and practice.

At Dunecrest, we also build soft skills using our Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and Character Education program. Every day, students have the opportunity to earn CREST points for their respective houses. CREST stands for Creativity, Respect, Excellence, Service and Teamwork- these are the concepts and subjects that we talk about at school every single day, stressing the importance of being a productive, positive, and engaged person, who contributes to their school, families, and communities.

When I look to the future, I see future entrepreneurs as a group of articulate, sharp, and successful young people, with a strong work ethic, as determined to give back to their community, as they are to creating wealth with successful businesses. As our students graduate from college and implement various entrepreneurship projects in their lifetimes, my aspiration is that they understand that their goals can be achieved by making everyone successful and raising everyone up, so that society, as a whole, benefits and grows.

Related: The Unwritten Rules Of The MENA's Education Sector

Bill Delbrugge

Founding Director, Dunecrest American School, Dubai, UAE

Bill Delbrugge is the Founding Director of Dunecrest American School in Dubai, UAE. 

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