When push comes to pull: cultivating entrepreneurial learning

Mr Brendon Thomas, Director of Technologies

Last month, the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) released The New Work Smarts report that revealed growing concerns about young Australians not being adequately prepared for their futures.

While it is impossible to forecast where tomorrow’s technology and its concomitant skills demand will lead the next generation, we do know that globalisation, flexibility, automation and robotics will have more influence over determining how jobs are performed, and what jobs are required into the future  (FYA, 2017).

This indicates that students must be much more flexible, innovative and resilient, not only in the context of developing entrepreneurial skills, but also, more importantly, in their development into strong, adaptable human beings (Shaw, 2017).

Chief Executive of the Australian Council for Educational Research, Greg Masters, suggests we need to be much smarter about the school curriculum in order to equip students for a significantly changed and continually evolving world. Many features of the school curriculum have, however, remained unchanged for decades (Masters, 2015). Truly modern schooling must cultivate the traditional 3Rs — reading, writing and arithmetic — along with the more recently identified 4Cs — critical reflection, creativity, collaboration and communication (Anderson, 2017).

Educators need to design curricula carefully so that our students are:

  • critical, empathetic and inventive thinkers
  • using human-centred design processes to be makers, designers, artists and engineers
  • applying mathematics and science skills in a much broader way, using advanced technology
  • employing technical skills in an increasingly enterprising way
  • technology-savvy innovators who can also effectively communicate ideas with others and respond positively to change
  • effective verbal and non-verbal collaborators who can negotiate, pitch, persuade and unpack ethical dilemmas
  • visual-spatial learners, able to scale and visually sketch and prototype solutions
  • passionately entrepreneurial.

The job of teachers is to foster these skills. Renowned researcher, John Seely Brown, suggests the key is ensuring students play with knowledge (Seely Brown, 2015) and identifies one systemic obstacle to this: education still primarily pushes information on students rather than allowing them to pull it from resources. Students need to be able to use information to connect, collaborate and be mentored in a new way of thinking about learning, a way in which the learner is a young entrepreneur on a quest to activate their knowledge to create novel solutions. Comparable to a start-up company, successful students are resilient, constantly absorbing and pulling new information. They don’t give up and are not defeated by change — they thrive on it. They challenge their own assumptions, and gather and adjust information — they are creative (Spencer and Juliani, 2016).

The Technologies curriculum at Brisbane Girls Grammar School uses this kind of thinking to set learning up as an ambition as though the students are young start-ups and entrepreneurs. In Year 10, for example, we set open-ended design briefs that see students collaborating on an enterprising project of their own. Students research market competitors, survey target audiences, develop branding, look into marketing strategies and then launch their product or service. In Year 11, every student designs and develops an authentic client website for a real client. The girls manage the entire project — from setting up a live domain (.com) to negotiating design and development procedures and client sign-off — culminating in the launch of the new site.

The girls’ responses to these projects are instructive.

Student reflections

Georgina Conlan (12W) The tasks I have completed have provided me with the knowledge of how to use tools and systems to overcome real-world problems, collaborate with peers and professionally interact with clients through pitching and survey analysis. All of the creative aspects of this subject, like branding vision and design, and the fundamental documentation requirements, are essential for practically any industry, making me feel prepared to tackle any obstacle.

Christina Chan (11R) This year I studied entrepreneurship for the Oxbridge Exchange Programme, as well as business management. I realised that the knowledge I retained from the Girls Grammar subject, Information Technology Systems (ITS), allowed me to incorporate my design thinking skills. We learnt that there are so many jobs not open to today’s society as they have not yet been created or invented, including in fields such as synthetic biology and artificial intelligence, as well as due to technological advances in neurobiology. Studying this course, as well as ITS, showed me the impact of design thinking. Everything we touch, and everything yet to be invented, has or will have some sort of design process incorporated. Design is extremely important and is something that can essentially contribute to a project fulfilling its purpose or failing miserably.

Anneliese Castle (10B) We were required to work in pairs or small groups of three to design and create a brand boasting an innovative new product or system that utilises new technology such as virtual reality or 3D printing. We first researched products and facilities that provided a service using innovative design and technologies. Each group member pitched an idea and then we decided on what our product was going to be. After that, we created a survey for others in the School to complete, which provided us with ‘customer’ feedback. Using that feedback, we created a brand using a range of tools and systems such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and/or XD. Our final brand design logo was incorporated into merchandise such as bags and hats. Through the designing and planning process, this unit allowed us to develop our critical thinking skills as well as valuable team work and collaboration skills.

We are very proud of the girls’ achievements in technology innovation at Brisbane Girls Grammar School. Three Year 10 students have been selected to participate in this year’s Queensland Young ICT Explorers competition, to be held later this month. They will pitch to a judging panel their ‘Mirror-Mirror’ concept — an augmented reality shopping experience developed as part of their Technologies curriculum. Girls Grammar placed first in the senior category in this competition in both 2014 and 2015. In 2016, Girls Grammar placed first in the ‘Senior Students Innovation’ category at the 2016 National iAwards.

The joys of desiring to learn new things through smart curriculum design, rich mentoring and quality teaching fosters exceptional scholarship in our students. While automation will certainly increase, ultimately it is up to us to empower our students to pull the yet-to-be-defined knowledge and skills they will need to design better systems that shape and sustain our world for the greater good and to guard against the potential ‘robotising’ of humanity.

What if we are left with a world where artificial intelligence is faster, smarter and more reliable than us? Our students may not always have the answer to questions like this, but we hope to give them the problem-solving skills to approach challenges with purpose, resilience, passion and relevancy in an uncertain future.


Anderson, M. (2017, March 7). Forget the 3Rs: modern schools need to embrace the 4Cs [Comment]. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/comment/forget-the-3rs-modern-schools-need-to-embrace-the-4cs-20170306-gurr8h.html

Masters, G. (2015, August). ‘Big five’ challenges in school education. Teacher Magazine. https://www.teachermagazine.com.au/columnists/geoff-masters/big-five-challenges-in-school-education

Seely Brown, J. (2015). Cultivating the entrepreneurial learner in the 21st century. In 2012 Digital Media and Learning. Retrieved from http://www.johnseelybrown.com/el.pdf

Shaw, A. (2017, May 28). School Values and Entrepreneurial Skills [LinkedIn Pulse article]. Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/school-values-entrepreneurial-skills-allan-shaw

Spencer, J., & Juliani, A. (2016). Launch: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student. San Diego: Dave Burgess Consulting.

The Foundation for Young Australians. (2017). The New Work Smarts: Thriving in the New Work Order. Retrieved from http://www.fya.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/F YA_TheNewWorkSmarts_July2017.pdf