By Emily Reynolds

19 February 2016 - 10:36

'[Learning about social enterprise] can encourage children to question the existing norms and imagine a different world.'
'[Learning about social enterprise] can encourage children to question the existing norms and imagine a different world.' Photo ©

Mat Wright

To mark World Day of Social Justice on 20 February 2016, the British Council’s Emily Reynolds examines how learning about social enterprise can help children develop essential new skills.

Ask any child in the UK what they learned at school today, and they’ll probably reel off a list of subjects that include maths, history, geography, physical education and art. These are likely the same things you learned when you were at school – and a good thing too, you might say.

But what if the child told you they had learned about enterprise? And not just enterprise, but social enterprise. That might raise a few questions.

Why learn about enterprise?

Education Scotland believes that, in the next decade, we will change how we view entrepreneurship. 'Young people', it says, 'need to be prepared for a world which is changing rapidly. Many of the jobs they will do when they leave school do not yet exist and they will probably have several jobs during their lifetime'. Schools should give learners opportunities to think and act in enterprising ways, and develop skills essential for business, such as solving problems, making decisions and assessing risks. According to Forbes, these are the skills employers most seek in graduates, along with the ability to talk to people inside and outside an organisation.

This has encouraged schools to incorporate enterprise into the curriculum, through programmes such as EigenBaas in the Netherlands. When learning about enterprise, pupils often get to create their own enterprises. In other words, they learn through doing. This kind of activity is important and reflects the ideas of the progressive education movement from the 19th century. According to philosopher and educational reformer John Dewey, a school's curriculum should reflect that of society, with essential subjects being taught alongside vocational training. For Dewey, 'progress is not in the succession of studies but in the development of new attitudes towards, and new interests in, experience'. Rather than encourage passive acquisition of knowledge, the curriculum should arouse children's curiosity and strengthen their initiative.

Finland has recognised the importance of learning through doing, and despite being leaders in PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), the country is changing its curriculum to encourage more active and collaborative learning. For example, rather than listening to their teacher or waiting to be questioned, pupils will work out a problem in small groups and improve their communication skills in the process.

One of the schools we interviewed highlighted that activities based on enterprise are good for breaking down learning barriers, and that pupils who had previously been unwilling to speak in class were volunteering to present to a variety of audiences. Pupils who found writing difficult were willingly using their own time to write invitations.

Why learn about social enterprise?

A social enterprise, simply put, is 'a business that trades for a social and/or environmental purpose'. What social enterprises have in common is a commitment to generating most of their income by selling goods and services, rather than through grants and donations, and reinvesting their profits in their social mission. Well-known examples in the UK include the Big Issue, the Café Direct and Jamie Oliver's restaurant Fifteen.

In recent years, there has been a rapid increase in the number of social enterprises. Government figures estimate there are 70,000 social enterprises in the UK alone. These contribute £24 billion to the economy and employ more than 800,000 people.

This surge in the number of social enterprises is thought to have come about as a solution to deep-rooted social, economic, and environmental problems that are otherwise being ignored. It is therefore vital that teachers are aware of the importance of social enterprises, and that they introduce the idea to children early on.

Learning about social enterprise builds on skills from enterprise, but takes a broader look. It can encourage children to question the existing norms and imagine a different world. This can appeal to children, who often have a natural sense of justice, fairness and inclusion. The State of Social Enterprise Survey 2015 – the largest, most rigorous and most representative survey of social enterprises in the UK – found that 31 per cent of social enterprises are working in the top 20 per cent of the UK's most deprived communities. The survey also found that social enterprises have an inclusive and diverse leadership; 40 per cent of social enterprises are led by women; 31 per cent have directors from minority backgrounds; and 40 per cent have a director with a disability. As well as this, social enterprises also pay a much fairer wage than traditional businesses; the average pay ratio in a social enterprise between the CEO and the lowest paid worker is just 3.6:1. For FTSE 100 companies, the ratio stands at 150:1.

Some examples of successful social enterprises in schools

Scribbles by Hollybrook

Pupils at Glasgow's Hollybrook Academy realised that their art work was gathering dust in the cupboards of the art room. They discovered that they could frame old art work and sell it to the public. Consequently, they formed Scribbles by Hollybrook, and it is now a long-term enterprise that involves donating all profits to Yorkhill Children’s Trust.

The Lu Ban Lock Puzzle

When Devonport High School for Boys in England and Zhejiang Sci-Tech Engineering School in China put their heads together, they found that many young people were addicted to playing online games – something that can be detrimental to physical and psychological health. To tackle the issue, the pupils developed the Lu Ban Lock – a hand-held puzzle originating in ancient China. The toy, made from recycled materials, is designed to stimulate brain activity. Both schools are working together to develop and market the product with a view to selling it in the UK and China.

The Karma Project

Another school connection worth mentioning is one between the Bishopbriggs Academy in East Dunbartonshire, Scotland, and the Karma Project in Bodhgaya, India. The Karma Project runs a privately funded school that gives free education to 70 children who would otherwise not receive it. Pupils and women’s groups in Bodhgaya make fair trade jewellery, money pots, bags and other craft products, using ethically sourced materials that are sold in Scotland. Bishopbriggs Academy set up a social enterprise, Unicorn Trading, that funds the Karma Project through the sale of these products. The initiative is part of Social Enterprise Academy’s Social Enterprise in Schools programme.

Now is the time for social enterprise in schools

Social enterprise has been attracting attention globally and is now on the agenda for many universities. Despite this, schools had paid little attention to it up to now. As social enterprise grows in importance, we should encourage children to learn about it by practising it in the classroom.

Teachers, download the social enterprise in schools resource pack. The activities in the pack encourage pupils to develop several important skills, as well as an awareness of how business can help tackle social problems.

You might also be interested in: