Monday, December 6, 2021

Fostering Entrepreneurship from a Young Age

Foreword: 

Roosevelt Network@Yale-NUS College is a Yale-NUS student organisation, and Singapore’s first student-run policy think tank. The Network introduces students to policy ideation, analysis, and writing frameworks, and aims to foster greater understanding on local issues. 

Last Semester, Roosevelt members wrote a series of op-eds about Singapore issues they are passionate about. In this tie-up with Octant, we present our members’ perspectives on the pressing issues of today, and their suggestions for the future.

To read more from Roosevelt Network, check out https://roosevelt.commons.yale-nus.edu.sg/publications/

Story by | Choo Wai Keat (’24), Dineshram Sukumar (’24), Htet Myet Min Tun (’24), Sean Low (’24), Thimali Bandara (’24), and Zen Alexander Goh (’23)

Image by | Martin Choo

In today’s world, it is not uncommon to buy a new pair of shoes on Shopee and have them delivered to your doorstep via Ninja Van. We can book a ride on Grab (on a phone connected to MyRepublic’s cellular network) to sell second-hand clothes to a Carousell buyer, then enjoy a meal paid with Shopback. There’s one thing in common with all these activities—they make use of services provided by local start-ups, and they bring newfound convenience to our everyday lives.

Beyond that, we depend on startups to create quality careers for Singapore’s workforce and establish new sectors within the economy. For example, Carousell and Grab started as pioneers in the peer-to-peer e-commerce and ride-hailing sectors. Now, they are local champions that employ in excess of 3,000 professionals and empower millions more to make a living through their platforms. This figure is expected to grow in the future: tech-enabled startups alone are slated to make up 2% of Singapore’s GDP by 2035, on par with the tourism sector.

Given these social and economic benefits of entrepreneurship—solving long-persistent social problems and providing new jobs—it is unsurprising that the Singapore government continues to support the innovation sector through a network of dedicated grants dispersed by numerous agencies. As a result, Singapore is now amongst the best in global innovation.

Yet, ironically, Singaporean youths are becoming less entrepreneurial. According to the National Youth Council (NYC), Singaporeans are apprehensive about starting companies as mainstream education does not equip them with a sufficiently diverse range of skills to start a successful business from scratch. Hence, there is a gap between the Ministry of Education (MOE)’s desire to instill entrepreneurial dare in students and the schooling experience these students receive.

Entrepreneurship education at the pre-tertiary level remains largely underdeveloped. Disparate programs like the Tan Kah Kee Young Inventors Award and limited initiatives from NYC provide scarce platforms for early entrepreneurship education. To make matters worse, these programs are not made readily accessible to all students in MOE schools. An equity problem hence arises as such opportunities are only accessible to a small pool of students already involved in entrepreneurial institutions or who are already “in the know.”

To leverage the full potential of entrepreneurship programs, we need to make them accessible to every student. However, developing and implementing a nationwide entrepreneurship subject curriculum has its fair share of difficulties. It is hindered by the need to focus on core academic subjects, and a lack of specialized instructors within MOE to ensure the program’s fruition. This deprives many students of an education in entrepreneurship and the opportunities to cultivate the skills of business.

To develop Singaporean youths’ entrepreneurial spirit, early stage education is vital. Studies by the World Bank suggest that equipping students with entrepreneurial knowledge at earlier levels of education is far more effective in nurturing a student’s knack for and passion towards entrepreneurship careers.

 As such, we believe that MOE should implement a nationwide entrepreneurship education programme, supported by the Enterprise Singapore and NYC—organizations which are sufficiently capable and experienced to deliver such a program. To overcome curriculum constraints, this program will operate as a Co-Curricular Activity (CCA) featuring chapters in every secondary school. Students will be exposed to the fundamentals of entrepreneurship and will have opportunities to consolidate their learning and raise money for their schools through starting social enterprises or Community Involvement Projects.1

With MOE’s institutional support, such resources could be efficiently extended to the wider education system. The CCA system enables multiple schools to aggregate interest and coordinate larger-scale activities beyond what is feasible within individual schools by involving external collaborations and contributions, such as large-scale talks by prominent entrepreneurs, national case competitions and zone-based fundraising fairs.

Further, skills workshops will allow students to better grasp business concepts and prime them to take full advantage of the suite of initiatives the government already offers at Institutes of Higher Learning, such as startup incubators, grants, networking opportunity, and expertise. The project-based deliverables of the CCA consolidate learning in an engaging way and will develop soft skills that are equally important in entrepreneurial success. 

A key shortcoming of entrepreneurship education abroad is that school teachers teach the subject, even though they are not necessarily well-equipped to do so. To remedy this, our proposal seeks to leverage real-world entrepreneurs as students’ mentors. Through sharings and workshops, these mentors will make entrepreneurship more relatable for aspiring students. All in all, the curriculum can empower students to believe that they have what it takes to successfully start a business, addressing the root cause of lackluster entrepreneurial drive in Singaporean youths.

Given the clear returns on economic development, comparatively low operational cost, and alignment with government interest to develop the startup environment, this policy is financially viable. Furthermore, many large MOE infrastructure development projects have recently been concluded (namely the Eunoia Junior College and Singapore Management “University X” buildings). This frees up the annual budget to be directed towards developing and implementing this CCA.

In the coming years, as the region becomes more competitive, innovation and entrepreneurship will be key drivers of Singapore’s economy. It is vital for our youth to be equipped with skills, provided exposure, and ultimately be imbued with the entrepreneurial spirit necessary to navigate that future. Our industry-backed CCA program responds to all three fronts, and can lead to the creation of more life-changing platforms in the future that share Grab and Carousell’s revolutionary success.


1 Community Involvement Projects; a mandatory part of the local curriculum where students plan and carry out projects that benefit their immediate community. Projects range from food drives to service learning trips abroad.

Bibliography

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National Youth Council. “Grants.” National Youth Council. Accessed December 26, 2020. https://www.nyc.gov.sg/en/initiatives/grants.

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Seow, Joanna. “Poll: Singapore Youth Less Keen on Being Entrepreneurs than Asean Peers.” The Straits Times, August 17, 2019. https://www.straitstimes.com/business/poll-spore-youth-less-keen-on-being-entrepreneurs-than-asean-peers.

Neck, Heidi M., and Andrew C. Corbett. 2018. “The Scholarship Of Teaching And Learning Entrepreneurship”. Entrepreneurship Education And Pedagogy 1 (1): 8-41. doi:10.1177/2515127417737286.

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Tan Kah Kee Foundation. “About Young Inventors’ Awards.” Tan Kah Kee Foundation. Accessed December 26, 2020. https://www.tkkfoundation.org.sg/young-inventors-awards.

Ting, Choo Yun, and Charmaine Ng. “Thousands of Jobs on Offer in Growing Start-up Sector.” The Straits Times, August 28, 2020. https://www.straitstimes.com/business/thousands-of-jobs-on-offer-in-growing-start-up-sector.

Valerio, Alexandria, Brent Parton, and Alicia M. Robb. Entrepreneurship Education and Training Programs around the World Dimensions for Success. Washington, DC: World Bank, 2014. 

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