The Swedish authorities decided as early as in 2009 that so-called entrepreneurial learning should permeate the entire educational system, from kindergartens to higher education. This has become an important term in the context of kindergartens in other EU countries as well. Yet Norway’s new Framework Plan for Kindergartens does not mention the term.
From the business world
‘The term comes from the business world, where one talks about entrepreneurship’, recounts the Swedish researcher Anna Ehrlin. She and two of her colleagues visited kindergartens to determine how they handle entrepreneurial learning. Since the concept is still new in the context of education, it has been interesting to see how employees have translated the Swedish authorities’ wish for entrepreneurial learning into reality.
Kindergartens come up with their own interpretations
The Swedish educational authorities have not provided any clear information about how they want kindergartens and schools to approach entrepreneurial learning. Consequently, it has been up to each individual institution to come up with its own interpretation.
The researchers visited three kindergartens for children between the ages of three and five. There, they met with kindergarten teachers who have decided for themselves how they want entrepreneurial activities to be approached in their kindergarten. These situations were filmed.
‘It was obvious to the researchers that entrepreneurial learning was interpreted very differently at the various institutions’, comments Anna Ehrlin.
Three different interpretations
She reports that they can generally divide the interpretations into three categories: The first interpretation involved the children making something for the community outside the kindergarten. For example, a little musical was put on for the children’s parents or performed at the local library. In this context, entrepreneurial learning was interpreted as something creative to be used in “real” situations.
Another way of interpreting entrepreneurial learning was closely related to science and technology. The children were to be inventors. One kindergarten was given old technological devices for parts. Then they were allowed to reassemble the parts to make completely new things. The children donned white lab coats and big plastic goggles to make them look as much like scientists as possible.
‘This way of interpreting the concept is based on the idea of innovation’, states Ehrlin.
The third way in which the researchers saw kindergarten teachers interpreting the concept of entrepreneurial learning involved personal development. In this context, the children were to develop creativity, imagination, self-confidence and social skills. Organising play rehearsals is an example of an activity that fits into this category.
In some cases, the researchers could see that more focus might not be prudent either.
Good intentions were an impediment
The researchers discovered that the way in which the kindergarten teachers had acquired knowledge about entrepreneurial learning was extremely random. A team member may have read a book or an article, felt inspired and wanted to try out the ideas. However, several kindergarten teachers had not familiarised themselves with what the concept implies.
Even though some had thought about how they were going to work with it, the tools intended to help them became an impediment. When the children were to be inventors and make new things out of old, technological junk, the activity ended up being highly adult-driven.
‘There were many things the children could not do themselves. Parts had to be glued together with a glue gun, for example, and that was too dangerous for the children. Thus, certain operations became impediments to the children’s own development’, Ehrlin points out.
The Emperor’s new clothes?
Since the kindergartens had not received information about the content of entrepreneurial learning, one of their strategies was to link it to a mode of working that was already familiar to them.
One of the kindergartens visited by the researchers features Reggio Emilia-inspired pedagogy, where it is important that children are given support for their exploration of the world.
The staff felt that entrepreneurial learning was largely commensurate with what they already did to focus on the development of competent children. They saw the new term as a more modern way of describing it. Accordingly, it had no bearing on what they already did.
This view was also prevalent in the other kindergartens. They had done it all before. The difference was that they now had a new term for working with children’s creativity, independence and self-development.
‘The employees felt they had a clearer focus and more support for continuing to work with this. However, nothing revolutionary has happened in any of the kindergartens’, continues Ehrlin.
The researchers could sometimes see that the added focus might not be prudent either. When certain staff members decide on a particular approach to a task, for example, to go out and do something creative outside of the kindergarten, that idea can become so predominant that other approaches get overlooked completely’, explains Ehrlin.
‘Some children don’t want to be active, take initiatives or do anything outside their regular group. What about them? Isn’t it possible for them to develop abilities associated with entrepreneurial learning?’ asks the researcher.