Invest from primary school level and home-grow our entrepreneurs
One of the great myths surrounding entrepreneurship is that it is concerned solely with the creation of a new business, and by extension the generation of wealth for the entrepreneur who established it.
The reality is that entrepreneurship is about a way of thinking and behaving, it is about identifying opportunities, assembling a team, gathering resources, being positive, taking risk, and building for the future.
Indeed, entrepreneurship can be applied in many different economic contexts such as social entrepreneurship, public sector entrepreneurship, entrepreneurship in the creative industries, and many other contexts besides.
For much of the past decade the European Commission has held the view that entrepreneurship must be embedded into the education system and that it should be available to all primary, secondary and third-level students.
Unfortunately Ireland does not have an entrepreneurship education strategy despite the many calls and evidence based reports by the European Commission highlighting the substantial benefits of entrepreneurship education to a nation's economy and to its young people.
A number of countries similar in size and peripheral geographic location (such as Norway, Finland and Denmark) have already recognised the benefits of an entrepreneurship education strategy and have successfully implemented policies to ensure that all students receive some form of entrepreneurship education during their formal schooling years.
While these countries have clear strategies in terms of entrepreneurship education, Ireland possesses a wide variety of separate initiatives taking place across secondary and third levels of Irish education.
Current initiatives in Ireland regarding entrepreneurship education are highly fragmented, lack a clear sense of overall purpose and direction, and are not meeting the needs of the country.
There is therefore an urgent need for a coherent entrepreneurship education strategy that is integrated across all three levels and across government departments, a strategy that will provide entrepreneurship education to a wider number of students throughout the education system, particularly to non-business students.
There is a growing body of international evidence which demonstrates that students who receive entrepreneurship education as part of their schooling show improved academic performance, school attendance, and educational attainment, have increased problem-solving and decision-making abilities, have improved interpersonal relationships, teamwork, money management, and public speaking skills, are more likely to find employment, and have enhanced social psychological development (self-esteem, ego development, self-efficacy).
The reason that students achieve these benefits is because the primary goal of entrepreneurship education is not to get everyone to start their own business but to give our young people the ability to think positively, to look for opportunities to make things happen, to have the self-confidence to achieve their goals, and to use their talents to build a better society (economically and socially).
It also recognises that students of all academic abilities can be part of this process and that success is not dependent upon the number of points that one gets in the Leaving Cert but on how people live their life.
The reality is that a principal barrier to the implementation of any entrepreneurship strategy includes the budgetary constraints faced by the Department of Education.
It should also be noted that any entrepreneurship education strategy would require teachers to understand business and be trained in its different approaches, a proposition that may not find favour with everyone concerned.
Undoubtedly there will be resistance from many quarters to such an initiative as introducing any new syllabii or culture can be a difficult and lengthy process. However, because introducing such a strategy is challenging does not mean it cannot be achieved.
It is arguable that the Celtic Tiger was born in the education jungle, brought about primarily by the vision of Donogh O'Malley in making available free secondary education to every child in the country. This strategy eventually led to Ireland becoming a well-educated nation that was strongly positioned to take full advantage of the global market opportunity that presented itself in the mid-1990s.
What is needed now are people with similar vision, people who can see beyond the immediate future and who are prepared to introduce a strategy that will serve as the basis for a successful independent economy in future years.
A smart economy requires young people who truly understand what it means to be entrepreneurial and youthful minds that will create an exciting new future for Ireland.
Thomas Cooney is Professor of Entrepreneurship at Dublin Institute of Technology and President of the International Council for Small Business