Essential Question for Travel - My Pre-Travel Questions & Thoughts
Essential Question for my trip:
To what extent does the Russian educational system foster the entrepreneurial spirit among its students?
Supporting Questions are:
1. Do Russian students have the opportunity to take business classes while in high school?
2. Do Russian students have a chance to participate in business clubs or business competitions, similarly to our DECA club?
3. Does the Russian culture value risk-taking in terms of business and promote innovation among its students in order to compete in a 21st century, global marketplace?
In preparing my essential question for travel, I can't help but mention that I am sitting among one of our nation's greatest American stories, the American Dream, as many would refer to it as...I sit in the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, reflecting on one of the greatest American entrepreneurial stories all of all time - Walt Disney. It is a story that I share with my students and is mentioned in all American business textbooks from high school to PhD school. I can remember studying case study after case study in my MBA program on this ultimate entrepreneurial success story.
Walter "Walt" Elias Disney grew up in Illinois in a working class family, working his summers with the railroads selling snacks and newspapers to travelers. His sense of business and sales were fostered at a young age, and he just didn't know it. Eventually, it was his love for drawing and cartoons that would drive him to start a business. After taking different risks and filing bankruptcy, he took another huge risk and moved to Hollywood with his brother, to start an animation studio. It was this move that would lead him to find success...and as the saying goes, the rest is history. Disney has built an unprecedented, synergistic empire that combines movies, tv, themeparks, music, books, and merchandise. Many have tried to replicate it's success, but none have come close. The Disney experience is an American past time, spanning generations, and a dream for most American children and families to witness.
Like Disney, I teach my students that the US needs more entrepreneurs to help invent our future, just as the host of great entrepreneurs did before us. I believe it were these past generations of entrepreneurs that created our economic prosperity that we have today. As a teacher of business, I teach my students about the free enterprise system and how innovation and entrepreneurship are key components to economic success.
My colleague, John Klipfell, writes, "An entrepreneur challenges the status quo and takes risks to solve problems and meets the wants and needs of society." Mr. Klipfell also talks to my students about a single marketplace and growing prosperity in developing countries equals OPPORTUNITY. In our International Business curriculum, we promote global thinking as a way to seize the opportunities the world offers you. I truly believe that our 21st century demands an entrepreneurial mindset in order to thrive in our future economy. As many of 70% of American adults have said they prefer to be self-employed and today's workers will change jobs at least 15 different times. I believe it is more important than ever for students to understand the concept of entrepreneurship and innovation to take them into the future.
It is my, as well as my students', interests in entrepreneurship and innovation, that brings me back to my essential question for travel. I wish to find some real, honest answers on how the Russian educational system fosters the sense of entrepreneurialism among its youth and if it supports additional programs to promote this thinking. I also wish to find out their sense of global business and their thoughts and contributions to the worldwide marketplace.
My Essential Question Reflection
Last April, I traveled half way around the world to Russia in hopes of finding concrete answers and ideas to support my essential question about Russia’s educational curriculum and more specifically, in terms of business education opportunities for its students. Each school I visited I kept my eyes open to see a glimpse of a class that resembled my very own class at Stow High School, where day in and day out, I emphasize the importance of business education - highlighting that my classes teach valuable life-skills, no matter if you choose to major in business or not. While never before experiencing any type of classroom beyond that of the United States, I knew I was a little naive to believe that I would find something similar. But surprisingly, I found so much more in my quest, hints to my essential question along with answers to many more questions I had not even considered before I began my journey. Honestly, this trip offered so many valuable experiences and epiphanies, that I have had trouble putting it all into words and explaining it to my colleagues, friends, and family. Russia personally changed me forever and in ways I cannot begin to express. However, I know you are eagerly looking for answers to my predetermined essential question so here it goes…
While I found no secondary schools who actually offered stand-alone classes in business education, I did see glimpses of entrepreneurship throughout my travels. The most strikingly obvious was with a private school which had four students compete in a business plan competition. I was all ears when these students presented their project on the effects of Down Syndrome and offered a sensible solution, or service, to those affected for a better way of life. By looking at the quality of their project and presentation, the students were exceptionally proud of their innovation and passionate about their work. They exceeded the many tenants of Tony Wagner’s survival skills, the critical skills students must learn and understand to become productive citizens in our 21st century. These Russian students were curious and imaginative in their plan, used critical thinking and problem solving to come to a consensus, collaborated and were seen as leaders within their school, as well as used initiative and entrepreneurial traits to arrive at their final project. I was immensely impressed with their effective communication skills and intrigued by the professional quality of their business plan presentation. This was truly the finest example of entrepreneurship being taught in the Russian schools.
After my many pressing questions for the students, I found that they do not take business classes, but instead meet after school as a personal interest or club. This also happened to be a private, affluent school in which the students spoke fluent English, among many other languages. One could definitely perceive that their parents are very well-off, who value risk-taking and innovation among their children. These students are free to explore any of their interests and are supported along the way. This school’s efforts definitely reminded me of my very own initiatives in terms of entrepreneurship, but differed as they took their efforts to an international competition, a level much higher than my own. I could sense that what this school was doing was very different from the norm in public Russian schools.
When arriving in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, I also caught glimpses of entrepreneurship and businesses growing. Businesses were popping up in destitute-looking locations, due to expansion, new money, and technology. This faraway city was a mix of new and old, which made it even more difficult to wrap my mind around what I was seeing. I saw remnants of buildings dating back to the 1800s sitting among high-rise shopping malls and banks on every corner. I saw a Subway restaurant sign, but also a dried fish stand on a nearby road. I was caught in a time warp between the past and the future and it was hard to comprehend. Despite the wide array of differing business activities, I did see the hints of the entrepreneurial spirit alive and well. One Saturday morning I awoke to an entire Farmers Market and shopping experience on the city square, in front of my hotel, that was not there the night before. The town center became alive with people selling their produce and wares in order to make a profit. I was humbled and excited to see such excitement in the air. I immediately thought of my essential question, but while these are not students, they could have been their parents or relatives, spending their Saturday to promote their business. I wished my students, and my own family, could have been there to see such a wonderful, family-friendly atmosphere where people cared about what they were selling and others felt good about their purchases.
My most memorable experience in terms of entrepreneurship came one evening in Krasnoyarsk, when our host school held a community fundraiser where the students set up booths in the cafeteria and sold their handmade crafts and trinkets to the community in order to donate the proceeds to a selected charity. This Charity Fair, as they called it, warmed my heart. I was amazed by the amount of time, effort, and skill that went into making their goods, organizing their booths, and promoting and selling the items. This was definitely entrepreneurship at its finest and students of all ages were doing it all for charity. I was honored to be a part of it and witness such extraordinary graciousness and compassion. This Charity Fair was one of my take-aways from the entire trip that I, too, hope to initiate at my school and instill such compassionate traits in my own students. Too often times, I teach my students how to start a business in order to make a profit and how profit equals success. This made me step back for a moment and rethink what business and innovation can do, impacting all involved for a greater cause. I am thankful that I witnessed such an extraordinary event.
While I did not see any type of class that resembled my own on the trip, I did find glimpses of the entrepreneurial spirit alive and well. In observing the day-to-day activities and classes, I gathered that risk-taking is valued within Russian schools, but it comes in the form of competition and not so much business or entrepreneurship. After visiting a science fair, I witnessed innovation being born from their science project competition. Competition and medals/honors/rankings were more of a theme I found in the Russian schools, rather than creativity and entrepreneurship. Also, during my short period of time there, I saw a lot of direct instruction and not as many project-based learning experiences while in class. Similarly as to the American system, these students were diligently preparing for upcoming mandated tests. I also noticed classrooms equipped with modern technologies (a teacher computer and SmartBoard), but set up in 1940’s style desks and equipment in very dilapidated, outdated buildings. From my journey I came to find out that Russian teachers and students face similar problems like we do in the United States. Funding and high stakes tests are an issue and interfere with what the students should really be focusing on for a 21st century education. All in all, I was impressed with what I saw in terms of people starting their own businesses. It is my hope that the Russian schools begin to take a little time to promote a sense of creative entrepreneurship among their students in order to foster growth and innovation for future generations.
NOTE: This TGC Capstone Project is not an official U.S. Department of State website. The views and information presented are the grantee's own and do not represent the Teachers for Global Classrooms Program, IREX, or the U.S. Department of State.