Why our children need entrepreneurial learning now to create hope and optimism

The world feels more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) than ever. Originally developed by the military, the VUCA model has been used in business organisations by managers to describe general global conditions and situations. Increasingly, global circumstances are bringing VUCA impacts into all spheres of our daily lives. Think COVID, climate change, conflict, transformational changes to working conditions, technological advances, poverty and health crises.

Recognising youth mental health challenges

If this perfect storm of challenges feels crazy to adults, how must it feel to our children? You only have to look at the evidence for young people’s mental health. The UN and OECD have both recognised a mental health crisis for young people. Young people’s (15‑24 year‑olds) mental health has worsened significantly in 2020‑21, with young people 30% – 80% more likely to report symptoms of depression or anxiety than adults in Belgium, France and the United States in March 2021. Higher levels of loneliness are also being reported by young people.[i] Numerous studies in children and young people show these groups are reporting reduced quality of life, emotional problems, social withdrawal, and symptoms of anxiety and depression up to suicidal ideations. The COVID-19 pandemic has been described as a ‘unique multidimensional and potentially toxic stress factor for mental health,’ which has had a particularly strong influence on children and adolescents due to its interruption of social contacts, which young people need for healthy psychosocial development (Brakemeier et al., 2020).

Mental health in childhood and adolescence is a time when rapid growth and development take place, establishing the foundations for health, optimism and resilience in later life. Unfortunately, the mental health of children and young people in the WHO European Region has been under significant strain in recent years, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the humanitarian crises in global conflict zones and the devastating impacts of climate change.

During the pandemic, school closures and lockdowns left children isolated, away from their peers and unable to optimally socialize and grow. Attendance rates and motivation among young people are reported to be low. Prevalence of symptoms of anxiety and depression has risen dramatically among young people and remains higher than pre‑crisis levels compared to other age groups. The worsening of mental health is disproportionately affecting young people.

‘Mental health and well-being is a fundamental human right that should be at the heart of our health systems and key to recovery from the COVID-19 emergency. The pandemic has affected everyone in society, but the most vulnerable, including children and young people, have suffered the most,’

Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe.[I]

Creating change

Entrepreneurial learning offers a remedy, providing a potential antidote to the anxiety and being overwhelemed reported in young people. The action orientation of the EntreComp competences in the ParENTrepreneurs frameworkbegins with spotting opportunities and creativity in ‘Ideas and Opportunities’, exploring, imagining, enthusing, and being creative about, what the future may hold; the art of the possible. Developing confidence through creative experimentation and competence development is empowering for learners, inviting them to think in new ways to solve problems with and for others.

As resources become scarcer in the future our children will need to increasingly harness existing resources, doing more with less, focusing on making the most of personal potential, seeing effort as a path to mastery. Most importantly our children will need to be able to team up with others to work together.

Studies suggest that times of acute stress may lead to greater cooperative, social and friendly behaviour[i]. This idea is reflected in a famous quote from American TV star Fred Rogers, ‘When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”’[ii]

Creating value for others lies at the heart of entrepreneurial learning, connecting people in positive constructive ways. Indeed, it may well have been this impulse to co-operate that enabled the human species to survive and thrive. People need to come together to create and sustain healthy resilient communities so that everyone in them can thrive. As the saying goes, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, and the challenges of the future will need people, adults and children, to work together to resolve them. Recent global challenges have shown us that no one is well and can thrive until everyone is well. One clear lesson from COVID-19 was our interconnectedness, as we made each other sick, and kept each other well.

Building communities for the future

Many communities across the world are being destroyed by floods, fires, coastal erosion, rising heatwaves and conflict. These communities are finding themselves forced to rebuild their lives, sometimes from the ground up. This is an opportunity to rebuild communities in fairer, more sustainable ways. Entrepreneurial learning can support children and young people to develop their social conscience and ethical thinking, reframing the future in positive ways that meet the needs of everyone.

There are children and young people across the world at this moment rebuilding their lives and communities following disasters of all sorts and this is the opportunity to do things differently, to find better ways, to innovate.

Educators need to support children and young people to not only imagine better futures, but to create them for themselves. New innovative online teaching and learning methods, designed to be inclusive and engaging can provide the ideal conditions for creative collaborative problem solving. Hackathons and win win auctions bring people together to ideate and imagine better futures in terms of what they can offer to create value for others.

It is vital that parents understand these new priorities in the school learning context to support and contribute. The ParENTrepreneur training provides the tools methods and resources needed for parents to get involved with their children’s learning in creative and enjoyable ways which benefit the whole family. The peer training model brings people together to explore and experiment with entrepreneurial competence development, underpinned by the theory.

A child’s learning is situated in communities. ParENTrepreneur training offers support to truly develop positive constructive communities within which all can come together to learn and flourish, contributing to the co-creation of a sustainable healthy future – the village to raise the child. As we create value for others, so we create value for ourselves, creating the future we need and want together.

As we approach the end of the Project phase, we are excited to take the ParENTrepreneurs tools and training forward. We are presently organising in person training for a group of recently arrived refugee parents in Wales. With the support of the local council these parents, once trained, will go back into their communities and share the learning with their peers. In this way parents finding themselves in unfamiliar places, away from their family and local familiar support networks can come together to make friends, share experiences and support each other, building forward looking positive, constructive and optimistic communities in which to raise their children.

Hazel Israel, Education and Skills Advisor, Bantani Education

References

Brakemeier, E.-L., Wirkner, J., Knaevelsrud, C., Wurm, S., Christiansen, H., Lueken, U., et al. (2020). Die COVID-19-Pandemie als Herausforderung für die psychische Gesundheit. Z. Klin. Psychol. Psychother. 49 (1), 1–31.

[ii] https://www.businessinsider.com/inspiring-mr-rogers-quotes-about-helping-others?r=US&IR=T

[i] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-the-stress-of-disaster-brings-people-together/

[i] https://www.euro.who.int/en/media-centre/sections/press-releases/2022/placing-children-and-young-peoples-mental-health-at-the-heart-of-the-covid-19-recovery,-whoeurope-and-greece-launch-new-programme-for-european-region

[i] https://www.oecd.org/coronavirus/policy-responses/supporting-young-people-s-mental-health-through-the-covid-19-crisis-84e143e5/