Education Viewpoint: Business Is Kids’ Stuff

It’s 2020, and 33-year-old John is head of International Plumbing Corporation billion-dollar New Zealand-based multinational. Not bad for young guy, whose father ran one-man plumbing business in Onehunga all his working life.

This scenario is the dream of members of the business community, tertiary institutions, Industry New Zealand and the Board of Trustees of Onehunga High School.

In February 2003, New Zealand’s first Business High School opened, with 70 students, at Onehunga High School.

The vision of the school is that this ‘business education’ concept will be the model adopted by secondary schools throughout the country to open the eyes of our teenagers to the global opportunities that are open to them.

The question arises as to whether ‘education’ is government issue, and whether Government should have introduced the concept.

There is no doubt that in terms of public schools, funding is function of government. But revolutions in education curricula will take far longer than school taking its own initiative and being happy to provide government with the platform to continue the programme through the country.

‘Education’ is political issue, and successive governments have focused on the importance of education. The public expenditure on education in New Zealand, as percentage of GDP, is among the highest in the OECD countries, and almost double that of Japan, and 50 percent higher than Germany.

There has never been any known research in the world that shows that more dollars spent on education will result in higher economic prosperity. Yes, there will be higher educated garbage collectors, or factory workers, but in terms of education as an investment by government, it is poor one.

However, without doubt, business education, taught meaningfully, will be the best investment in our future society, and the best investment in this country’s future, because it will have positive effect on economic prosperity.

Business education should not be solely accounting or law – it must be subjects that open the eyes of students to the realities of business in New Zealand, and the world. It must utilise modern day tools, such as computer business games, which are relevant to today’s teenagers.

Educators could argue that education is to create more intelligent society; other groups could argue that education is to teach skills for student’s future career; ‘business education’ does not only do both, but also provides the skills that every person needs for their everyday living.

Every person runs their ‘own business’ – they receive income from wages, investments or social benefits, and they must undertake all the functions of business person to survive. For example, they must manage their income, think how to derive more, how to allocate costs, reduce costs, plan and organise, how to operate bank account and obtain credit facilities, pay taxes, buy and sell assets, and all the other functions that business person must undertake to run successful business.

Thus, my belief is that we will add more to society by spending more on business education than other subjects.

We may be more intelligent with general education, we may be able to find particular job from our specific education, but neither of these will necessarily add to economic growth.

The point is made previously, that business education must be meaningful, to be successful. The Onehunga concept brings experiential learning to the classroom. We envisage time when Bill Gates, for example, will speak, on interactive video, to students of 50 schools at 8:30 on Wednesday mornings – for now, it will generally be local executive who will speak to this one school, at that time.

An executive from the business community will be mentor for five students, and they will see his or her business in action during the year.

New Zealand’s first Business High School, described by Craig Norgate, CEO of Fonterra, as the “biggest revolution in education in 100 years”, is the catalyst to greater economic prosperity.

Bring on 2020, and let’s have many Johns running their own International Plumbing Corporations. Any expenditure on meaningful business education will be money well spent.

Tony Falkenstein is successful Auckland-based business leader and chairman of the Onehunga Business High School Trust.

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