250,000 opportunities a year to prepare young minds for business
In Great Britain alone there are some 250,000 secondary school students in one form of Business Education or another.
How we can give them an experience that prepares them for the reality of running a business?
While many programmes are still provided as lectures (“chalk and talk”), most organisations agree that hands-on learning (“experiential”) delivers far better results.
Even down at primary level ﬁnancial well-being education is now mandatory for all school children. In addition, and outside the Business Studies curriculum, all schools run Entrepreneurial days and Career Advisory days, which both act as forums oﬀering entrepreneurship as an option to school leavers.
In this arena schools are facing common challenges: at secondary education level, across a wide range, schools are struggling with the Business Studies curriculum. Teaching is inconsistent and some schools cannot resource a Business Studies expert. It is therefore unsurprising that student engagement is often lacking. Add to this the pressures of decreasing costs, increasing eﬃciency, quality of delivery, variation in teaching methods, performance… and it is understandable that many schools would welcome a fresh, eﬀective and consistent approach to delivering such key knowledge.
Schools need to get students through their exams. The better the results, the better the funding. At the same time they are under pressure to better prepare their students to apply the learning in the real world. In business and entrepreneurship, this means giving students the know-how and tools to be able to start and successfully operate their own business. In the current climate of high unemployment, the UK government is relying on the small and medium enterprise (SME) sector to grow the economy out of its crisis.
For every person who leaves school to start their own business, the following happens:
- A job is created, for themselves and by themselves
- One less person is unemployed
- Value is created; taxes are generated
- One job less is required from a tight job market
- If successful, the new enterprise will itself create more jobs.
What, therefore, is a better way to transfer business knowledge to the young mind?
For many years now there has been a consistent demand in corporations around the world to provide training in ﬁnance and business acumen. A signiﬁcant industry has grown up around this one need. While many programmes are still provided as lectures (“chalk and talk”), most organisations agree that hands-on learning (“experiential”) delivers far better results.
One particularly eﬀective methodology, which having been invented in the 1980s has certainly stood the test of time, is the use of board games, or board-based business simulations. This is quite literally a hands-on methodology, where each board game (a bit like Monopoly on steroids) represents a business. There are usually 6 teams playing in a live and competitive environment (2 to 4 people per team) where the challenges faced are those of a real business – except in a totally safe environment. Virtually any business can be modelled. Indeed, some are quite sophisticated.
The huge advantage of the board-based system is that all the values seen on the business’s Balance Sheet - and most of those on the Proﬁt & Loss Account - are physically shown by tokens on the game board. For example, the cash area will physically have a pile of tokens that show how much cash there actually is. When cash needs to be spent, for example on an investment or to pay an expense, that money has to be physically moved to its new destination on the board. The entire cash ﬂow cycle becomes alive.
Unsurprisingly, the speed of uptake amongst the young was much more rapid than in equivalent adult, corporate classes. The one striking diﬀerence, according to the teachers who supported these tests, was that student engagement was signiﬁcantly enhanced. Most young people enjoy a competitive environment, and there is satisfaction in making money. The learning that comes out of such an environment simply evolves from the engaging situation in which the students are playing. Furthermore, the eﬃciency of the method signiﬁcantly saves teaching time. As the testing of this methodology has progressed in schools over the past years, a number of challenges have emerged in using it.
They are a result of the conﬁnes within which a typical UK school operates:
- Lessons usually last an hour, or possibly two hours. When the bell goes, the class moves!
- Teachers are used to telling students what to learn. Business simulations rely more on a Socratic and facilitative approach.
- For many teachers, Business Studies is not their speciality. They too can struggle with some of the concepts that they are teaching. They desperately need something that comes out of a box, virtually runs itself, and improves their own conﬁdence in the subject.
- Money. All schools plead poverty, and any new solution is always too expensive!
One solution to these challenges has come with the advent of new digital technology.
Superior computer graphics, powerful processors and rapid access to inter and intra-nets now allow us to transfer this board-based technology much more eﬀectively onto the screen. Most important, the advent of high resolution touch-screen technology means that the kinaesthetic (touching) element of money on a board game is almost 100% replicated. As soon as the tried and tested board technology becomes an eﬀective digital solution the constraints of the one hour lesson diminish.
Lesson plans can be built into the gaming software. Self- test methods are much easier to incorporate and administer. Starting and stopping the simulation is the click of a mouse or the touch of a button. The teacher can rely totally on the system to ensure that the key messages and learning points are conveyed. Education has always been a passion of ours. One of our ambitions as a business is to ensure that a new wave of students will be leaving schools better informed and better equipped to run real businesses in the real world.
For that, young people deserve to be given experiences that allow them to navigate through the real decisions and consequences, and experience the highs and lows of running a business in a way that resembles the reality as closely as possible.
Just some thoughts from us on a topic our people are hugely passionate about. If you work in education, and are interested in discussing these challenges further, please get in touch.
Young people deserve to be given experiences that allow them to navigate through the real decisions and consequences, and experience the highs and lows of running a business.