In World Class Learners, Dr. Yong Zhao stresses the dire need of today’s schools to branch out from the required curriculum of core standards to introduce the entrepreneurial skills needed to succeed in the modern world. He explains that the school system originated as a way to train a community of people to work in a local setting, usually requiring the same skill set for each person. In contrast, today’s students need diverse skills to succeed in a global and technologically-connected community, particularly the skills of creativity and innovation. Yet schools are doing the opposite and are focusing on international benchmarks such as the PISA test. Countries worldwide are enforcing assessments that are becoming the new gold standard. In doing so, content is homogenized and teachers are confronted with curriculum narrowing, or fewer opportunities to expose students to diverse content as they are forced to “teach to the test”. As a result, instructional quality declines and teachers as well as students become disengaged in school.
Zhao provides significant evidence displaying the decline in creativity in the United States. The abilities of producing unique and unusual ideas, elaborating, reflecting, as well as intellectual curiosity and open-mindedness have all decreased over the past twenty years. Recently the focus has been on creating common core standards in order to raise the quality of education, but Zhao believes that diverse opportunities for individual learning and innovation create a true, worthwhile education. This focus on innovation will scaffold students to become future entrepreneurs, like Steve Jobs or Suhas Gopinath. Zhao clarifies that entrepreneurs are not just necessary for capital gain but can benefit society as social or policy entrepreneurs. Additionally, there are intrapreneurs working within a company or infrastructure to make radical changes through innovation and cogent risk-taking.
Enter the rise of entrepreneurship education. Harvard offers an entrepreneurial manager course as part of its MBA program. Fortunately. our students need not attend Harvard nor get their MBA, though both would be commendable. Classroom teachers of any age range can offer students the opportunity to learn entrepreneurial skills, but, as the author warns, without making it a forced part of the curriculum and crushing the entrepreneurial spirit. Zhao recommends student-centered learning in which the student is a “purposeful agent” of learning. Education should then pertain to what each student is interested in, capable of and curious about.
Zhao recognizes the difficulty for teachers to move away from the prescribed, easily controlled curriculum to which they are accustomed. And, in the age of accountability, teachers who give students freedom in learning or allow children to do what they want are seen as irresponsible or lazy. But when students become responsible for their own learning and study what they are truly interested in, they become engaged in their own education. They learn to create “work that matters”.
Zhao focuses on project or problem-based learning (PBL) to allow students the autonomy to manage their own learning. He categorizes PBL into three models: the traditional academic model – focused on standards; a mixed model – focused on content and skills via different media; and the entrepreneurial model – focused on a high quality end-product or service to meet an actual need of the class or community. The significance of the entrepreneurial model is to celebrate students’ creativity and individual talents as well as to prepare students for real world situations and becoming global entrepreneurs.
In World Class Learners, Dr. Zhao unfolds all aspects of entrepreneurship, ranging from crowd-sourcing to genetics. He provides a worldwide look at the current educational climate, the entrepreneurial skills needed to be successful in life, as well as the “how” of making it happen in your classroom.