The country's educational framework has to be overhauled if it is to encourage entrepreneurial initiatives at the grass roots.
The Dr Anil Kakodkar Committee's recent report — Taking IITs to Excellence and Greater Relevance — makes an interesting remark that the curriculum in these institutions is designed for a mass of ordinary students and the structure hinders the promotion of entrepreneurship and innovation.
That the entrepreneurship programmes at these elite institutions, let alone other lesser known ones, is inadequate, is strikingly evident. More so, the continuous learning needs of a diverse audience — ranging from school students to semi-literates and literates, to the owners and employees of for-profit and non-profit organisations — emphasises the country's underdeveloped educational framework.
While the essential role of education in building technical skills or “knowhow” is sufficiently acknowledged, its potential in bringing about a shift in mindset and attitudes, i.e. “know why” has not been well understood. The need for educational institutions to move away from the current didactic approaches is essential if the country is to sustain its economic growth.
However, such an approach requires critical reflection on and, perhaps, an overhaul of, curriculum, pedagogy and delivery practices at not just the higher education levels, but also at the primary and secondary school levels. Entrepreneurial awareness and elements of entrepreneurial behaviour — curiosity, creativity, autonomy, initiative, risk-taking and team spirit — are best sowed early in life.
For this, the mainstream pedagogical toolkits need to include the liberal use of games, experiments and other tools appropriate to the age of pupils. Sharing the success stories of young entrepreneurs will also help build a positive outlook towards an entrepreneurial career. Junior Achievement Worldwide, a global organisation providing entrepreneurship education for young students, has shown that such early interventions can lead to increasing entrepreneurial activity.
It needs to be seen how TiE Buddies, a recent endeavour of the The Indus Entrepreneur Hyderabad chapter, launched with the objective of inspiring high school children to become future entrepreneurs, sustains and scales up.
At the tertiary education levels, the proliferation of business plan competitions in the recent past, evidences a growing trend among students to seek avenues to express latent creativity, innovativeness and entrepreneurial zeal. However, the formal curriculum and academic support programmes in the country have still not evolved to meet this new era of education demands. Those that exist are marred by inadequately trained workforce and an undue emphasis on business planning; most incubators provide no more than a shared working space at a subsidised cost.
It is interesting to note that in the recent past an increasing number of business schools from abroad, such as the University of Illinois, Stanford and Johns Hopkins have included the study of India's emerging market as part of their experiential learning programmes. It is ironical that many of the educational institutions in our own backyard are yet to design immersion and cross-disciplinary programmes that provide such a learning experience to aspiring entrepreneurs.
High potential programmes
A study conducted by MIT in 2009 found that companies founded by MIT alumni, numbering more than 25,000, employed 3.3 million people and generated annual world sales of $2 trillion. Compare this to India's Gross Domestic Product of $1.31 trillion (at current market prices) in 2009-10. This exemplifies the potential economic impact that university entrepreneurship programmes can have. Indian academic institutions have much to learn from such approaches that engage academia with the real world, capture the attention of students, and legitimise technology licensing and commercialisation. Of course, any such new pedagogical experiments by faculty calls for new incentive structures that recognise and reward innovative efforts.
Educating the educators is another aspect that needs fundamental rethinking. While building the capacity of teachers, especially at the elementary and secondary education levels, is perhaps constrained by national policy and curriculum reforms, the educators in higher education institutions have more autonomy to adopt out-of-the-box approaches. Formal networks such as the National Entrepreneurship Network (NEN), supported by the Wadhwani Foundation and bodies similar to Ohio State University's Consortium for Entrepreneurship Education (CEE), could emerge as platforms for entrepreneurship educators to create and share teaching, training and research resources.
Admittedly, entrepreneurship is a core enabler of a socially inclusive economy — an economy that empowers millions of disadvantaged to co-create wealth and confidently pursue participation in the economy. However, entrepreneurial literacy programmes for low-literate and low–income individuals definitely need innovative content, design and delivery.
The Marketplace Literacy Project, initiated by Madhu Viswanathan (Professor at the University of Illinois) and Entrepreneurship Training offered by TechnoServe seem to offer possible sustainable and scalable models. Even reorienting NGOs towards entrepreneurial approaches should be an integral part of the overall strategy of entrepreneurial education. The Diffusion programme at ISB, which aims at instilling entrepreneurial approaches in traditional non-profit organisations, is one step in this direction.
Although an attempt has been made here to highlight some major issues and showcase successful models, the challenge with entrepreneurship education remains finding a host of pragmatic pedagogical approaches that cut across the formal and informal education spectrum. New vehicles, knowledge networks and practices may need to be developed, involving all constituents of the ecosystem — policy makers, academia, the business community and civil society. Knowledge of successful experiments carried out across the globe would enable actions to progress faster. Overall, the approach to build the next generation of job creators itself needs to be innovative and entrepreneurial.
(The author is Executive Director, Wadhwani Centre for Entrepreneurship Development, Indian School of Business, Hyderabad.)