Entrepreneurship – a commercial concept in the school and the public sector

Jun 16, 2017 | Education Research/Cooperation

On 8 June Karin Axelsson defended her doctoral thesis in Innovation and Design at MDH in Eskilstuna. Her research deals with entrepreneurship strategy and change work, where she has investigated how the Government’s strategy for entrepreneurship within the education sphere (2009) has been established and developed in practice. Her findings show that there are great differences between the written strategy and what takes place in the classrooms.

Karin Axelsson

Karin Axelsson is a doctoral student in Innovation and Design at MDH. She has previously held several different positions at the University, among those being as Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Cooperation Matters, and as one of the driving forces in the development of the Idélab concept, which helps students, researchers and employees to turn their ideas into reality. Parallel to her research, she teaches at the Innovation programme.

– I take on assignments with a great drive and believe in taking advantage of good ideas. People with different backgrounds and experience often provide the best conditions for creating new ways of thinking. Good ideas work in much the same way as mushrooms in the forest: where there’s one there are most often more, says Karin Axelsson.

In 2009 the Government introduced a strategy for entrepreneurship within the education sphere. Here it states there that it should be as natural to be self-employed as it is to be employed. It also states that entrepreneurship should run like a common thread through the education system. Launching the strategy and implementing the subsequent changes in the schools’ curricula meant that the Government took an active decision to introduce a commercial concept into a new, public context.

– I have been investigating what has happened with ”entrepreneurship in school” and have carried out studies among teachers from preschool up to adult education. In order to find out how teachers of the future will work with entrepreneurship in school, studies have also been carried out at the teacher programmes at university level. I have been looking at what the strategy has meant in education in practice and how teachers work with entrepreneurship in school. In parallel with this I have investigated how a commercial concept – entrepreneurship – is introduced into a public environment. What does it really say in the strategy and how is this put into practice? says Karin Axelsson.

There was a lot that surprised Karin Axelsson during the course of her work. She describes how she went out to look for entrepreneurship, but found something else:

– I’m amazed that there’s such a big difference between the written strategy and what’s happening out in the schools. At first I got upset, but realised quite soon that what’s taking place seems quite sensible and reasonable in respect of the introduction of the strategy, where it’s been left to the preschool teachers and teachers to supplement it with their own content. This is happening despite the fact that most of them lack both training in and practical experience of entrepreneurship, that the teachers really only act entrepreneurially, in accordance with the ideas of entrepreneurship in school. The fact that the strategy is not followed leads to quite a few unexpected consequences, which I discuss in my thesis.

Based on her previous experiences, Karin Axelsson could see that there is often an over-reliance and a naive attitude towards strategies and policy documents. She is of the opinion that far too many people believe that everything will sort itself out automatically as soon as the strategies have been formulated and adopted. A living strategy requires continuous work and it is that’s where there is a gap between reality and strategy.

– I would like the research findings to be used as a basis for discussion and reflection among preschool teachers, teachers and managerial staff concerning entrepreneurship in the school environment. For decision-makers and politicians the material is also important as a source of knowledge regarding what happens when you apply a commercial concept to a public context. In a lot of municipalities and government agencies concepts are introduced from the private sphere without any knowledge about what this really implies, says Karin Axelsson.