Do we really need yet another educational philosophy?

Just finalized my PhD thesis for the “end seminar”, i.e. the final test before I get the PhD badge. After six years I ended up proposing a new educational philosophy grounded in entrepreneurship. Strangely enough no-one seems to have proposed such a thing before. Please do correct me if I’m wrong here. And what would yet another educational philosophy be good for then? Might you ask yourself. Well, educational philosophies are teachers’ more or less silent wayfinders in a complex life of teaching. Some teachers are aware of this, others are not. And when teachers are asked by EU, OECD, World Bank or some national / regional / local educational policymakers to infuse entrepreneurship into education, they more or less unknowingly resort to educational philosophies. Here’s how it often goes.

“I’m gonna let my students work actively in teams on authentic problems, allowing them to learn in self-directed ways – isn’t that entrepreneurial pedagogy?” A teacher might ask. No, that’s progressive education. Invented centuries ago. “But what about taking students to a study visit, or even an internship where they can work at a start-up or at least meet the founders of some company, isn’t that entrepreneurial pedagogy?” Another teacher might ask. No, that’s experiential education. Invented in the middle of the 20:th century, or earlier, but at least described in detail in that century.

So what is then “entrepreneurial” in entrepreneurial education? Well, the answer to that is not easy to say. Unfortunately there is no “right” answer, only opinions. And for lack of a clearly elaborated set of opinions, which we sometimes call an “educational philosophy”, teachers end up constructing their own personal teaching philosophy that might do the job, but more often not, unfortunately. In fact, entrepreneurial education is most times a failure – leading to marginal approaches decoupled from core curriculum and relevant only to a very small minority of students, mainly on higher levels of education. But at least, failure is not alone in this case.  It is shared by centuries of failure for progressive educators around the world. As Labaree says – it has indeed shaped how we talk about education, but not what teachers do.

An educational philosophy is inherently prescriptive, a coherent set of beliefs. This is what I have tried to design in my thesis work, but this time for the first (?) time based on entrepreneurship theory and practice. I’ve developed a set of carefully chosen and hopefully coherent set of beliefs that teachers can apply when designing their “entrepreneurial” pedagogies. I don’t claim it to be the “right” or “only” set of beliefs possible, just one set of beliefs that teachers can use. If they like. It goes like this: Let students learn by applying their existing and future competencies to create something preferably novel of value to at least one external stakeholder outside their group, class or school / university. Or in short: learning-through-creating-value-for-others. It represents a more clear answer to a question most progressive and experiential educators struggle with: learning-by-doing-what?

It was developed through a five-year research process of constant iterations between theory and practice. A total of nine empirical studies on all levels of education were drawn from, involving a few hundred primary, secondary, tertiary and continuing education teachers, around 2000 students and around 100 different educational institutions in three European countries working entrepreneurially to varying extent. In addition to a new educational philosophy, it also resulted in a number of methodological developments, such as a new “proxy” theory of assessing entrepreneurial education, a mobile app based interview technique and frameworks for emotional events and entrepreneurial competencies.

If you want to read the thesis, just drop me an email or tweet me, and I’ll send it to you. If you prefer to keep it short, here is a summary of it. The end seminar is on Nov 6:th at Chalmers from 13-15. It’s open to the public if you want to chime in and hear what the discussant Saras Sarasvathy has to say about the thesis. The dissertation defense is planned for spring 2016, if Saras likes what she sees, that is.

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