I was reminded of the importance of ‘literacy’. I don’t mean specifically written/read English, but literacy in the way it has come to be used in Education, as ‘competency’ in whatever subject or field. I was working with a colleague in Malawi who had no literacy in using Excel. What struck me wasn’t that he was struggling with various functions, formulas etc. – I was too. But that he simply was not familiar with the basic operations underlying the use of Excel. He struggled with highlighting cells, copying and pasting etc.etc. In fact, he was having real difficulty with the kind of basic operating procedures that are essential to use Microsoft Office. How to save files, what to click to minimize etc. Why? He’s a bit slow, yes! But, he was learning from scratch something that most of us under a certain age in the UK have learned almost implicitly through exposure. I don’t remember many specifics of my IT education. I’ve always had to learn or relearn processes whenever I’ve done anything substantial on the computer. However, what my IT education has provided me with implicitly is the underlying familiarity, competency or literacy.
What then are the essential literacies of the C21st? The question has something of a tired, clichéd ring about it, but is nevertheless pretty important. I’ve suggested ‘literacy’ in citizenship and entrepreneurship is important for citizens.
‘Literacy’, I suppose, consists of a body of knowledge and the competent application of that knowledge. It doesn’t mean knowing everything, but, crucially, knowing how to approach problems in a specific field (knowing what the paradigm is?). There is ‘literacy’ in citizenship. Is there literacy in entrepreneurship? Perhaps it’s in a familiarity with acting on initiative, risk, and capitalising on the future?
I read something by Anita Roddick questioning the value of MBAs for entrepreneurs. She was suggesting that entrepreneurship is about risk and obsession (I think she used the word obsession, it might have been dedication), and that these are qualities that can’t be taught. Perhaps you’re even just born with them. Certainly she suggested they’re not best taught by business schools which are bastions of stats quo.
I think I would caution Roddick’s fatalism. Business schools may not best teach entrepreneurship, but that doesn’t mean we can’t create conditions in which entrepreneurship can flourish. Although how to teach literacy in entrepreneurship is a slightly different question to how to teach the equally important literacy in IT (or just plain literacy), I suggest the clue to the answer is in implicit learning (see also previous posts) and in the value of experiential learning.