Teach entrepreneurship

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Want to revolutionize education?  Teach and encourage entrepreneurship.

Earlier this year I was invited to speak at a robotics conference in a renown Chinese university.  As I was led by a student to the auditorium, I passed by many glass-walled classrooms, each can hold about 30 students.  Instead of seeing neatly organized desks and chairs, these medium size rooms are full of chaotically scattered instruments, cables and spare parts.  Clearly somebody was making something.

“Are these classrooms?”  I casually inquired.

“No, they are startups.”  The student replied.

“Startups?” I was intrigued. “Funded by whom?”

“The professor.”

Wow!  The student’s nonchalant answers struck me like a two-by-four.  After further questioning, I learned that this professor helps grad and undergrad students run real startups using classroom space, and allows students earn college credits doing it.

“What a concept!” I thought to myself.

Imagine students solving real problems, applying what they know, learning what they still need to know from classes and gobs of online materials, and most importantly, motivated by a dream of becoming the next Facebook or Google.  When I interacted with these students, they asked not only technical questions, but also those related to solution cost, market trends, and ecosystem.

I left amazed, enlightened and a little sad–we Americans have schools with clean whiteboards, beautifully decorated classrooms, friendliest teachers who can teach the what and the how–but are we teaching them the whys?  Are we showing them the big picture?  Are we limiting them by thinking they are too young to do what we can do?  Are we expecting too little?  If we don’t motivate our young to dream big their only remaining motivation is to please their parents or stroke their own ego.  We can do better. 

Entrepreneurship does not separate learning from application; it does not separate the whats and the hows from the whys.  It is about seeing the whole picture.  Imagine our students learn and think like entrepreneurs, classroom materials will come alive, innovation will become abundant, and our youths will be so far ahead. 

(The above article is solely the expressed opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the position of his current and past associations)

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