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Entrepreneurship and choosing to act

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Recently, the Caribbean Examinations Council announced plans to introduce five new subjects for students writing the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (Cape). Among them is Entrepreneurship. 


This week, Reading, It’s Life revisits the lessons in social entrepreneurship founder and CEO Paula Lucie-Smith learnt after she entered the school system as a secondary schoolteacher. Her experiences formed the basis of what was to become Alta years later. Can entrepreneurship be taught and tested? Read on:


I really like the term social entrepreneur. 


What makes a social entrepreneur? Is it that she/he is able to see an issue that others can’t? In my first week teaching Form Five Social Studies in 1983 at a senior comp, Michael volunteered to read the textbook. The class moaned “Doh let Michael read Miss.” Michael read “the” and stopped to work out the next word. Some weeks later, another young man handed me two pages of homework. Instead of the answer to the questions, he had copied the questions over and over again. This was better than the student who drew Pink Panthers for every assignment—really good Pink Panthers too. 


What is interesting is that my experience was in no way unique. The teachers at the school then, and in every year since, lament the students’ poor reading and writing skills; indeed some say this is getting worse. And this is the same in schools across the country, and it’s not limited to schools. Even in the 80s, people, when they found out where I was working, told me in hushed tones, “But I hear those children can’t read.”


So if special ability to see a problem does not make a social entrepreneur, what does? The social entrepreneur is the person who chooses to act when all others around choose to do nothing. Everyone else says, “That’s not my problem.” 


When my daughters were in their teens, I went to a parenting workshop and the speaker said it was important to teach children that for every action, and inaction, there is a consequence. That struck a chord with me—much to the annoyance of the daughters who thereafter had a big notice in their rooms saying, “For every action, and inaction, there is a consequence.” 


It was the “inaction” part of the statement that struck me. The realisation that when we choose not to act, that also has a consequence. 


The school where I taught experimented briefly with placing the non-readers together in a separate class taught by an English, a Maths and a Social Studies teacher, all experienced. No literacy teacher, though, and you definitely need a literacy teacher. Why? When you hear a teacher speak, can you see the words? With a newspaper, on the other hand, you see the words.


How do spoken words that you hear transfer to a written form that you see? You put the words in code, a phonic code. That’s why reading is called decoding. Learning to read is a different skill to learning English. The school tried a quick fix—it didn’t work. I learnt a lesson. 


So the school did act, but lacked the tools to address literacy. In 2006, a Rotary Club sponsored an Alta programme for fourth formers at the school. Despite positive feedback from the students, the Ministry of Education decided they would introduce their own programme—still awaited. When the school had the tools, they lacked the will to implement. They gave in and gave up. I learnt a lesson.


So what differentiates the successful social entrepreneur? He/she is invested 100 per cent and will find a way to make it work. He/she knows he/she does not have all the answers, but he/she is willing to put in the hard work, endless hours, days, months and years to find a solution—and to find the people who can implement the solution and come up with more solutions. Even when she finds the right tools and people, these need constant nurturing and adding to and this requires innovation and openness.


Next week, Reading, It’s Life looks at the power of one.



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