How Entrepreneurship Education can reproduce social inequalities

Iván Diego, Catherine Brentnall & Sibylle Heilbrunn Thursday 17 November 2016

This article argues for the dismantling of the myth of classlessness in entrepreneurship education. Discourse in favour of more entrepreneurship in education has contributed to a process where a particular set of skills, attitudes and behaviors (flexibility, creativity, autonomy and ‘grit’ to name a few) commonly ascribed to (heroic) entrepreneurs have been heralded as the safest route to much coveted ‘employability’ for everyone (Berglund, 2013).  

Like Tetris shapes gently falling into place, the usual intervention logic of entrepreneurship education policy reforms predicts: boosts in motivation, improved classroom atmosphere, lower drop-out rates, increased self-efficacy, greater desire to become your own boss, enhanced employability, and ultimately, higher earnings, life satisfaction and social inclusion.

But causality should not be taken at face value. Van Zanten (2014) showed that educational policy change can (in)advertently reproduce social inequality and entrepreneurship education could be in the same danger. We illustrate this in relation to a key study given what’s possible in a brief blog.

Heilbrunn and Almor (2014) investigated the impact of participation in the “Doing Business” program operated by Junior Achievement Israel on 630 matched pairs of adolescent high school students in Israel. Using a before and after, as well as a control group, design they analysed the influence of the program on participants’ business related knowledge, self-efficacy, and perceived feasibility and desirability of becoming an entrepreneur. Overall the findings showed a significant positive impact on the dependent variables but, when controlling for socio-economic background, a different picture emerged.

Competitive oriented encounters between the different groups of pupils reinforced and strengthened preconceived social perceptions rather than creating a more equal arena

For pupils from low socio economic environments participation turned out to be counterproductive. They valued themselves with less self-efficacy and saw entrepreneurship as less feasible and desirable after participation. Post-analysis interviews with these students revealed a complex mix of interacting factors, from less parental support, to less time spent on task, and interestingly the feeling at regional meetings and competitions of being ‘underprivileged, backward and less capable.’ Competitive oriented encounters between the different groups of pupils reinforced and strengthened preconceived social perceptions rather than creating a more equal arena. Should one not expect from such interventions that young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds, already constrained in achieving higher education and status, should benefit most?

This study puts a question mark against the widespread belief in the boundless benefits of entrepreneurship education. Its conclusions could be read as a cautionary tale that warns the entrepreneurship education community of the perils of acting on good intentions alone.

For Entrepreneurship Education to resist being seen as a rhetorical and instrumental device to engineer the shouldering of the responsibility for employability solely on the personal attributes of the young entrepreneurial citizen, it needs to be carefully designed and tested, taking into account the effects of young people’s economic, social and cultural capital.

Reay (2006) contended that “social class has seldom been adequately addressed within schooling,” but, since her assertion, an inordinate amount of research on socioeconomic status and its effects in education has been published. Despite these developments, entrepreneurship education seems somewhat immune to prioritising class as an important factor which could usefully inform the design, and influence its impact on learning.

Social class offers an alternative perspective from which to analyse the explicit and implicit goals of entrepreneurship education. Such an exercise will tend to make entrepreneurship educators more self-conscious of the process by which some curricular decisions are made, a necessary step to pave the way for more critical research and evaluation into effective entrepreneurship education practices.

While young people across Europe struggle with unemployment, ignoring these results – and the potential impact of social class on outcomes – may render entrepreneurship education  a futile activity, which can potentially backfire.

 

References

Berglund, K. (2013). Fighting against all odds: Entrepreneurship education as employability training. Ephemera, 13(4), 717-735.

Heilbrunn, S., & Almor, T. (2014). Is entrepreneurship education reproducing social inequalities among adolescents? Some empirical evidence from Israel. The International Journal of Management Education, 12(3), 445-455.

Reay, D. (2006). The zombie stalking English schools: Social class and educational inequality. British Journal of Educational Studies, , 54(3), 288-307.

Van Zanten, A. (2005). New modes of reproducing social inequality in education: the changing role of parents, teachers, schools and educational policies. European Educational Research Journal, 4(3), 155-169.


Iván Diego is Project Manager at Valnalon, a regional agency for the promotion of entrepreneurship in Asturias (Spain). His research interests concern issues related with transfer, appropriation and reactions of teachers to prevailing entrepreneurship education policies.

Catherine Brentnall is Managing Director of Ready Unlimited and helps teachers to develop and embed enterprising and entrepreneurial learning and culture in education. She works with schools, teacher educator organisations including colleges and universities and regional and national governments at home and abroad. Her research interests concern: teacher development and school change, class and inequality and the framing of entrepreneurship education in education policy and practice.

Sibylle Heilbrunn is Professor for Organizational Sociology and Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at the Kinneret Academic College on the Sea of Galilee, Israel. She is also a member of the Higher Education Reform Experts consortium of Erasmus. Her research interests concern entrepreneurship education and minority and migrant entrepreneurship.