Instilling an entrepreneurial spirit in young people has become a popular idea in EU policy circles, but some businesspeople say initiative is something that comes from within and cannot be taught.

Entrepreneurs and policymakers weighed up the merits of inserting entrepreneurship into educational curricula at a debate organised on 25 May by YES - European Confederation of Young Entrepreneurs, and Generation Europe Foundation to mark SME Week.

In addition, EurActiv asked members of the official LinkedIn European SME Week group for their views, and also sought opinions via a post on the Blogactiv platform.

There is a sharp philosophical divide between those who see entrepreneurship as an innate drive that not all are blessed with, and those who believe educational reforms could bring a shift in mindsets.

Similarly, some businesspeople generally think governments should stop meddling in their affairs, while others are pleading for state intervention to promote small business and shelter start-ups from the crisis.

Echoes of 'creativity' debate

The question of whether a specific subject called "entrepreneurship" could be introduced is reminiscent of the debate on how to teach creativity, which dominated part of the European Year of Creativity and Innovation (EYCI) in 2009.

The notion of designating time to entrepreneurship, creativity or initiative has been put forward as one option. Another possibility is a more fundamental reworking of all subjects to make them more relevant and to encourage students to "think outside the box".

The role of teachers

One of the more fundamental challenges in helping people develop their creative side is whether teachers are willing and able to get involved. Entrepreneurs have been quick to point out that teachers are civil servants who have chosen secure employment rather than to enter the risk-prone world of launching a new business venture.

There is a degree of consensus that the role of teachers should evolve into a "coach" or "facilitator" for young people's experimentation with entrepreneurship.

In addition, there is broad support for encouraging schools and universities to bring in role models who can explain the benefits and pitfalls of running your own business. This, it is agreed, would help students to see entrepreneurship as a career option.

Barriers remain

Still, some major challenges remain, including limits to the EU's competence in the area of education. Brussels can help share best practice but it is national governments that control what children learn and how they learn it.

Finally, the debate on using education to make Europe more entrepreneurial is not taking place in a vacuum. In parallel, there are experts talking about how to use the education system to improve appreciation of science, maths, the European Union, art and design, financial literacy, languages and many other competing interests.

Education ministers will be quick to note that they must implement school curricula designed for students with all aptitudes and interests. Similarly, parents and teachers will wonder whether adding entrepreneurship will mean reducing the time spent on maths and languages.

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