‘You cannot teach entrepreneurship’, I have been told on a number of occasions. ‘Entrepreneurship is an attitude, a gift. You are either entrepreneurial or you are not! The best you can do is to teach skills and then a few of those you teach; who are entrepreneurial will set up their own firms’.
These arguments are not hollow. There is truth in them. It is true that entrepreneurship is more of an ‘applied science’ than ‘a pure science’. If an entrepreneur is defined as s/he who is an innovative, opportunity obsessed risk taker who takes responsibility for the founding of new enterprise or idea, then yes it is an attitude. Entrepreneurship education seeks to dispose students to be such people.
In the process, it borrows from and indeed applies other business and management subjects such as financial accounting/ book keeping (for record keeping), managerial accounting (for financial planning/ forecasts/ budgeting), costing (budgeting), marketing (feasibility analysis), human resource management (motivating employees) among others.
The entrepreneurial spirit or mindset that we so crave in our students and indeed citizens is but an attitude. But look around you, pretty much nothing gets done without the right attitude. We vote, cook, eat, sleep, work, play, dance, pray, marry, and even raise our children based on our attitudes.
But can attitude be taught? The jury is still out on that. First, we must understand that ‘attitude’- that learned tendency to evaluate things in a certain way; according to psychologists is a combination of thoughts (cognitive), outlook (behavioral) and feelings (emotional) components.
If we take a causal approach, then we will ask; can we influence these components that shape a person’s attitude? There is a Kiswahili saying; ‘mtoto umleaveavyo ndivyo akuavyo’(literally; as you raise a child so will they turn out). The underlying factor in all these components of attitude is that they are a result of experiences one goes through in life. Thus, simplistically, malezi bora (good nurture) should result into watu bora (good people).
And then the education question. What is the purpose of education? As Dr Martin Luther King Jr put it so eloquently: ‘Education should furnish them with noble means to an end…education has a two-fold function to perform in the life of man and in society: the one is utility and the other is culture. Education must enable a man to become more efficient, to achieve with increasing facility the legitimate goals of his life.
Education must also train one for quick, resolute and effective thinking.
The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society.
Intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character--that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate…’
Perhaps the focus should be in shaping or even as one of my friends put ‘teaching’ people to shift attitudes rather than teaching attitudes. Entrepreneurship education seeks to do this through practical exposure of students to various aspects of business. It is this exposure that shapes perception (truth is seen, not heard!). Perception in turn forms the basis of experience that shapes attitude.
For example, the attitude of even the most cynical male chauvinist in Rwanda has shifted against women now. We have seen just how much women can do if given opportunities. Male chauvinism is no longer fashionable in light of this.
You cannot teach entrepreneurship? Yes, you can and should! Indeed, if other subjects were taught entrepreneurially, they would be more practical or relevant to the learners. This is what we are doing at RTUC by setting up of an entrepreneurship centre that will among other things mainstream entrepreneurship into other subjects.
One last thing! Not all students will be entrepreneurs, but even the ones who become employees should be intrepreneurs- entrepreneurial employees!
Sam Kebongo teaches entrepreneurship at Rwanda Tourism University College. He also is a Director at Serian Ltd that provides skills and business advisory services consultancy.