News

Interview with Mailis Reps, Minister of Education and Research of the Republic of Estonia

November 27, 2017

The firsts results of  the Innovation Cluster for Entrepreneurship Education (ICEE) research project on the impact of entrepreneurship education were presented in Tallinn (Estonia) on November 16-17 at the occasion of  a policy round table organised in the framework of the Estonian Presidency of the Council of the EU , in collaboration with the Ministry of Education  and Reaseach of Estonia, JA Estonia  and JA Europe.

We asked Mailis Reps, Minister of Education and Research of the Republic of Estonia, a few questions about importance of developing entrepreneurship education in European scools.

Mailis Reps, Estonian Minister of Education

Why do you consider it is important to develop entrepreneurship education and increase its penetration in the European schools?

By developing the sense of initiative, entrepreneurial competencies and providing the learners relevant experiences, everyone will have more opportunities in shaping their career, irrespective of what they want to be in future – a responsible employee, an entrepreneur or an active citizen. Cooperation between the education system and business helps to raise awareness about the importance of entrepreneurship in our wellbeing.

In Estonia, entrepreneurship education plays a crucial role in education system. The idea and importance of it derives from Estonian LLL strategy. In the strategy, the goal of education system is defined as follows: “To ensure that all people in Estonia have the learning opportunities corresponding to their needs and capabilities. The learning opportunities must support learners’ self-actualisation within the society, in their work and in their family life.” We have the entrepreneurship education (EE) strategy for years, 2016-2020, it includes goals, performance-measures and a budget. The aim of the EE strategy (programme) is to systematically implement entrepreneurial competencies at all educational levels and types of education.

There are three main principles that EE is based on: 1) EE must be taught systematically at all education levels. 2) EE should be developed in collaboration with all relevant stakeholders: universities, entrepreneurs, educational, and governmental institutions. 3) it is important to create awareness about EE and benefits that it offers to the individual as well as to society.

What do you think about the Junior Achievement “learning-by-doing” method giving young people a practical real life experience of entrepreneurship by running a mini-company?

Junior Achievement Estonia was one of the first organisations in Estonia introducing the “learning-by-doing” method in Estonia already 25 years ago. For now, this method has proven its efficiency and we have witnessed enthusiasm of young people and changes in the attitude of students and teachers towards entrepreneurship and its importance in society. In Estonia, the Company Programme is becoming more popular every year and it has found a place also in our national curriculum. Many young people who have graduated from JA programmes have become successful entrepreneurs or entrepreneurial employees in different fields. The European and worldwide network is also a big advantage as it opens even more opportunities for students who understand that nowadays in order to be successful any business has to cross the borders of their own country.

During our Presidency, we are focusing on the changing role of learning and teaching. This is about the change of the whole idea of education and educating – emphasising the importance of transferal and soft skills, including entrepreneurship; practical learning – following the “learning-by-doing” concept. Moving from “learning for better knowledge” to “learning for better and more experience”. This is about a change of the culture of learning and teaching. The culture change is always a time-consuming process and needs a lot of clarification not only to teachers but also to school leaders, parents and other educators. In addition to dissemination, the teacher training is also very important.

How can entrepreneurship education programs help to bridge the gap between the world of work and education?

The Estonian national strategy foresees bringing schools, universities and businesses together in delivering the most efficient and effective education. We support the contacts between businesses and schools in different ways by encouraging mentoring, company visits and entrepreneurs visiting lessons and telling their stories. Business people go to schools for mentoring student companies. Many of them have done it already for years and the number of volunteers is growing very quickly. Students learn theory from their teachers and get business advice from their mentors who are also good role models. By the way, today (16.11.2017.) is Estonian Job Shadow Day with more than 3000 students participating, many of them shadowing business people.

According to EU Commission: “Every young person should have a practical entrepreneurial experience before leaving compulsory education”. How can the European institutions help the national governments to promote entrepreneurship education in all national education curriculum?

While some of the key competences already have an established place in educational systems, this is not typically the case for entrepreneurship or other transversal skills. The European Commission can support to develop a shared understanding of key competences and to further foster their introduction in education and training curricula and support better developing and assessing these skills.

I also see a good value in the European Commission’s proposal for recommendation on the revision of the Key Competences for Lifelong Learning, it also includes entrepreneurship as one of the main key competences. The proposal supports building a shared understanding of key competences and to further foster their introduction in education and training curricula. The revision also provides support for better developing and assessing these skills. Special attention has to be paid to promoting entrepreneurial and innovation-oriented mindsets, encouraging practical entrepreneurial experiences. We hope and believe, that the topic will be carefully discussed by the upcoming Bulgarian Presidency

Why do you think it is important to develop an entrepreneurial spirit in young Europeans? How can Entrepreneurship Education help boost growth and job creation in Europe?

Once more, Europe needs entrepreneurship education and also forming positive attitudes towards entrepreneurship. School has to develop creativity, entrepreneurial mindset, including courage and ability to take calculated risks. But attitude is not the only thing to be changed. In order to succeed, students also need knowledge and practice and for this programmes like JA Company Programme have to be promoted, this is a good combination of forming attitudes and teaching skills and knowledge. In many countries of Europe an entrepreneurial thinking pattern was destroyed and not developed for 50 years and we cannot still hope that young people get an enterprising attitude from their homes as they often do in US. Schools have to take responsibility for developing the young generation who will manage well in our quickly changing world.

What are the most important decisions for a member state to take in order to extend the reach of entrepreneurship education in its schools and colleges, and why?

Lessons learned from our practice in implementing entrepreneurship education in Estonia are as follows:

  1. Collaboration between all relevant stakeholders (researchers, teachers, schools, entrepreneurs, government institutions, politicians) is important to assure success in implementation but difficult and time-consuming to manage.
  2. Implementation of EE systematically at all education levels is essential to achieve success in implementation (competence framework, progression models). This is important to build a common understanding about EE in society (amongst parents, teachers, school leaders foremost) – what it is and why do we need it. What and how should we teach to the students at different ages to support evolving their entrepreneurial mindset. This is based on the fact that the ultimate goal of an education systems is an improved wellbeing and the latter can come only from economic development, which cannot be based on anything other than strong, competitive enterprises (being competitive at international level is especially important in the case of small county as the internal market is very limited).
  3. Integration of EE in all subjects is a challenge, we should not leave it to teachers to solve, we should provide them methodological tools and instruct them. We also need to assure that the school leaders and authorities at local level support teachers, because this is a big change in teaching and we have seen that in order to gain support and trust, we must clarify the need for a change also to the leaders in the education system.
  4. Evaluation of impact is a challenge, but very important, to see the progress, identify success factors. This is also important for communication, for convincing and gaining trust from parents, educators, students, politicians etc.

I am proud that entrepreneurship education has obtained a strong place in our national school curriculum and participation in the student Company Programme has been made it easy for young people.

For further information:

Innovation Cluster for Entrepreneurship Education: http://icee-eu.eu/

Junior Achievement Europe: http://www.jaeurope.org/

Junior Achievement Estonia: http://www.ja.ee/

Estonian Ministry of Education and Research: https://www.hm.ee/

‘Switch on Europe’ campaign to support Entrepreneurship Education: http://switchoneurope.org/