So what’s the “evidence” for entrepreneurial education?

In a recent question to Swedish National Agency for Education a teacher asked them about the evidence for entrepreneurial education. Sweden supports entrepreneurial education in many ways, as outlined in a recent overview by Eurydice here. Sweden is one of seven EU countries that has an earmarked budget for entrepreneurship, and the Nordic region is a leader in this field says Eurydice. But one of the areas that Sweden is not supporting according to Eurydice (see p 53) is impact assessment of entrepreneurial education. Now that’s not completely true. My research team has done one impact study for the Agency (here) and we are currently doing another one not yet written up. The reason it does not show up on Eurydice’s map is perhaps that the Agency does not view it as impact assessment, but as development support. Sweden’s Agency is not even allowed to research the impact of entrepreneurial education according to its mandate.

When asking the question “What is the evidence for entrepreneurial education”, one first needs to unpick some inherent challenges. First – what is “evidence”? There is a lively discussion about whether it is even possible to produce quantitative mathematical “evidence” for educational approaches (see critics for example here, here, here, here and my own take on the issue here, and see a supporter here). Then there is the more rare discussion about what it is we are discussing and assessing. Most impact assessment studies have been made applying a narrow view of entrepreneurship as starting a business. This is not even what we are talking about in Sweden when we discuss widely infusing entrepreneurship into education. Also, most studies have been conducted on higher education levels, which is not what we are talking about here. Most people are not aware of these misalignments. And even if we end up talking about a wide view of entrepreneurship as personal development, creativity, action orientation, initiative taking etc, we risk ending up in a confusing discussion around how this differs from progressive education which has been discussed and quarreled about for around three centuries or more. And from that discussion we can learn that traditional education (i.e. reading, memorizing, repeating, reciting, whole class instruction etc) is way easier to measure than its progressive counterpart. This is a fact well established by now. But Biesta warns us about jumping to conclusions based on this fact by saying here: “The danger here is that we end up valuing what is measured, rather than that we engage in measurement of what we value”. PISA is a perfect example of this problem, and I am personally baffled how unchallenged PISA is today. In Sweden we spend hundreds of millions SEK based on a very narrow measurement instrument. Some few critics can be found here, here and here. In Sweden this is a non-discussion. Everybody commits the Biesta fault and accepts and acts upon PISA at its face validity.

So what has the Agency done. Well, they have ordered a literature review that can be found here. But meta-research does not help when research is scarce, so this report contains very few answers on “evidence”. It is also very Sweden and Nordics centric (apart form the appendix), and Sweden is a tiny tiny tiny country (I am always reminded of this by my American supervisor). A recent report that could offer some answers was released by EU here based on 13 case studies here. I’d say it is the most comprehensive attempt to evidence entrepreneurial education to date. But it also partly suffers from a narrow view of entrepreneurship viewed as starting a business. A narrow view is simply not relevant to most students. Some studies that at least have the needed focus are this, this and this (there are a few more too).

My take on all this has been to develop my own definition of entrepreneurial education viewed as learning-through-creating-value-for-others. I’ve done two impact studies on this approach (here and here) and have four on-going studies. This is the topic of my dissertation which will be defended on 13:th of June (email me to get the thesis if you want to read, I am not allowed to put it online yet). While I should not review myself, I should here at least say (sorry Jante!) that some people have stated this to be a major step forward in the domain of entrepreneurial education, since it clears some of the mist around entrepreneurial education, since it seems to work so well in practice for teachers and students and since it explains the differences between progressive and entrepreneurial education clearly. I am personally convinced that if we are to get considerable impact from entrepreneurial education, the narrowing to do is NOT to narrow it down to venture creation, but rather to narrow it down to value creation for others. More impact studies to follow. Now I have to rush to a meeting on how the hell we are going to finance the finalization of even the assessment studies we are already involved in. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack I can tell you! Practical activities are funded widely, but assessment work is not eligible for funding…


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