An exploratory study of the entrepreneurial attitudes of secondary school learners
Steenekamp, André Gerard
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This study highlights the urgent need for a youth entrepreneurship development program of value in South African secondary schools. It examines the entrepreneurial attitudes of grade 10 learners in 16 secondary schools in the Sedibeng District of the Gauteng Province, South Africa, using the Attitude Toward Enterprise Test (ATE Test) developed for young learners in the United Kingdom. The study is based on the attitude-approach to entrepreneurship research. Al though there is support for the trait-approach based on an extensive list of common personality traits that are identified as distinctive to entrepreneurs, wide-ranging criticism for this approach suggests that the attitude-approach based on the theory of planned behaviour presents a more appropriate method for entrepreneurship research on school learners. The theories and definitions of entrepreneurship are examined to determine 'who' and 'what' an entrepreneur is, but the study concludes that neither an accurate theory nor a universally accepted definition of the concept has as yet been developed. It also concludes that the fundamental requirement for successful entrepreneurial activity has not changed: it remains dependent on breaking with the past and acting outside routine, often conflicting with social norms, by introducing new and improved combinations of resources into the economic lifecycle. The entrepreneur remains that person with unusual will and energy to break away from the status quo and realize a profit against the odds, often in the face of multiple failures and at great personal expense. An investigation into the current status of entrepreneurship in South Africa revealed that the country's position in the lower end of global competitiveness may have a negative impact on entrepreneurial development. South Africa is facing many challenges in terms of poverty, unemployment, income inequality and a large concentration of discouraged work seekers in the younger age groups. In addition, the youth are being marginalized due to their low self-esteem and confidence, parents that are not involved or qualified, dysfunctional community structures and the negative side of globalisation. Against this, the study shows that the South African youth has a positive attitude towards opportunity-based entrepreneurial activity. This finding is supported by both the literature review and empirical research conducted in the study. Statistical analysis of the 'Enterprise Attitude Questionnaire' completed by 1 748 grade 10 learners produced satisfactory levels of construct validity, reliability and relationships between the constructs of 'leadership', 'achievement', 'personal control' and 'creativity' to conclude that learners are positive about opportunities in South Africa and the formation of new entrepreneurial ventures. However, the study suggests that grade 10 learners in the Sedibeng sample have overrated expectations of their future academic qualifications. A positive attitude towards further learning can be commended, but failure to reach these goals will result in frustration which would counteract successful youth development. In addition, respondents in this study appear to be overly positive regarding the existence of entrepreneurial opportunities; their knowledge, skills and plans to start their own business after completing school; as well as their low fear of failure as a factor that will prevent them from starting their own business. It is suggested that young learners need to be exposed to the realities of entrepreneurial venturing so they can understand that the path to entrepreneurial success is strewn with many obstacles and personal challenges. The study also reveals that there is no practical significant differences between the mean values for the demographic variables gender, ethnic origin, exposure to entrepreneurship at school and self-employed parents or guardians. Whereas the results for gender and ethnic origin suggest that male and female learners from different ethnic groups should react similarly to a program of entrepreneurial learning, the lack of practical significant differences between learners from the perspectives of entrepreneurship exposure at school and having self-employed parents or guardians suggest that catalytic factors (which should impact positively on the attitudes of learners) have not had the desired effect on the Sedibeng sample. Major shortfalls in the current education system are highlighted including teachers with low morale and high levels of stress, the lack of resources, the transfer of mainly theoretical knowledge, the traditional "listen and take notes" role of learners and an urgent need for changes in "traditional classroom delivery" to a focused approach on entrepreneurial learning. The lack of an organised system of youth learnerships is also singled out as a possible cause for the poor involvement of South African business in the development of youth. A gap-analysis between the current and desired state of entrepreneurship education in South Africa shows an extensive list of shortfalls, and the study concludes that public schools in South Africa, given the challenges currently facing both teachers and learners, do not have the capacity to implement a successful program of youth entrepreneurship development without an intervention driven from the outside. In essence, this study concludes that the window for accelerated youth entrepreneurship in South Africa is open, and that a collaborative effort driven by entrepreneurs with the involvement of the Government, educators and organised business is needed to promote youth entrepreneurship in South Africa. Accordingly, the study presents a number of recommendations directed at the grassroots level for the promotion of youth entrepreneurial learning in the Sedibeng District. The study expands on these basic recommendations by presenting a national strategy for accelerated youth entrepreneurship development in secondary schools in South Africa. The proposed South African Youth Entrepreneurship Development Initiative (SAYEDI) is explained in broad detail, but the study concludes that further research is needed to determine the appropriate method and required curricula to find an entrepreneurial solution for the entrepreneurial dilemma facing the South African youth.