I recently had yet another, and ongoing conversation with one of my freshman students (15 years old) that, when coupled with my professional development course work in Educational Leadership and Management, has really made me think. I can slowly and visibly see him becoming disengaged with the educational process. His profile- a young, Latino male, who aspires to play soccer professionally, and who would also like to follow in his father’s footsteps to become a small business owner. He, without reservation, asserts that he wants to hire people and not be the one to be hired.
Honestly…I could not fault him for that- it makes sense and is a valid aspiration to have for financial freedom, building generational wealth, creating his own work-life balance, etc. The benefits are endless.
Then, I began to really think about the structure of educational systems here in the U.S., and at home in Bim. For some quick historical context- schools as an entity were not made to accelerate generational wealth or to ensure financial freedom; instead, it was a means through which groups of people can be controlled with not much room for creativity, innovation, etc. Fast forward to today, with the for-profit educational sector, and the sticker price for an advanced education today, it is no surprise that our young men and women are exploring other options, balking at the thought of going to school to “secure a better future,” and quite frankly rebelling against the notion that you have to have a college degree to be successful in life. The trade off of finances for education for many like my student, are not worth it. The risk is > than the reward.
This instance and conversation with this young man was something I couldn’t in good conscience argue against, because I know how confining and restricting student loans can be, and also how liberating financial freedom is.
Which then leads to the purpose of this article…
In hindsight- having gone through the Barbados and the U.S. secondary education system, our students are not pushed to be the business owners, they are tracked to be the employees. Working for someone is a sure fire way to have some form of stability, but it does not guarantee wealth. Granted, entrepreneurship does not guarantee wealth either but most wealthy…not rich, wealthy…people are owners of their entities or brands- they are entrepreneurs. They have carved a space out for themselves in this world where they control their enterprises and determine their net worth. The average employee, on the other hand, their net worth is dependent on how much the business owner values them by way of pay/employee income.
This post is not to bash or minimize the value and importance of having stable employment, by any means. Instead, it is an opportunity for us to really take a critical look at our educational system, what it offers, to whom, and how are we setting our students up (or not) for financial freedom, economic success, and building generational wealth through the course offerings and options they have access to during their secondary education, beyond the traditional business, science, etc. Are we offering opportunities for our students to innovate, to be creative, to explore entrepreneurship, the performing arts, apprenticeships, internships, and other exploratory ways to discover what they want to do professionally? Or are we creating a pipeline for them to maintain the status quo where they work for others indefinitely?
Growing up in Bim at the time, the tracks offered were very traditional and there was no talk of the prospect or possibility of students exploring entrepreneurship where they could work for themselves, explore the notion of business ownership, and/or hire people to work for them, giving them professional and financial freedoms that a traditional job does not. Before I proceed, let me say that I do know firsthand that entrepreneurship is not easy- it requires discipline, determination, at times capital, and consistency. Profit margins are not even really visible until at minimum 5 years into the entity. However, just like entities like Google, Amazon, Apple, etc. all started with an idea, we should also encourage our students to innovate and to create. You have to start somewhere.
I know many business owners in Bim lean towards hair styling, barbering, nail technician, odd jobs, side hustles, etc. I encourage our educational system, however, to really formalize, and embed the entrepreneurship framework as a standard aspect of education for all students at the secondary level. In doing so, the importance of this profession is conveyed, it presents all students with another professional option, and it encourages students to think creatively while charting their professional trajectories and courses.
Education is beneficial to any society and its people- it is a means. The greater question though is, to what end? The status quo?