NIU program creates entrepreneurial spirit in South Africa

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Joanne Dempsey and children at YMCA.

Stories, music, art and games are teaching children in South Africa about their roles in the economy as workers, consumers and savers/investors – and as future entrepreneurs.

Through an after-school program developed by the NIU Division of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development, children in fifth, sixth and seventh grades are being introduced to basic economic concepts and learning how the decisions they make now will impact their future. 

“The goal is to help children recognize that economic principles they’re learning today can create better opportunities for their future,” says Joanne Dempsey, curriculum developer for The Economics and Entrepreneurship Education Program (TEEEP). 

“By introducing them to the idea that they could start their own business, we hope to expand their view of the working world and career options,” Dempsey added. 

Partnering with the YMCA of South Africa and the University of Johannesburg, NIU provided training for 27 YMCA volunteers who are teaching the program at five sites this year, involving just under 200 children. The classes combine engaged learning strategies with an incentive program that “pays” children for attendance and for completing certain activities. Lessons about earning, wages, smart spending and saving are learned as the children use their wages to buy small items in a classroom store or save their money (which earns interest) for larger items.  

TEEP introduces children to basic economic concepts such as scarcity, opportunity cost, productive resources and money. They are also introduced to businesses and jobs in their community, and learn about being entrepreneurs by running their own businesses in the classroom or school. Eventually, the program will provide the option of opening up real businesses in the larger community.                 

Now in its second full year, the program has received very positive responses from children and volunteers alike. Volunteer program leaders say children are excited to attend the voluntary after-school activity, and assessments show they are learning economic concepts and applying them in their own lives. In addition, South African YMCA leaders say the program’s model of incentives and strong management structure have brought positive changes to all of the YMCA programs. 

“The impact on the South African YMCA program is that capacity has grown tremendously as a result of this program,” said Mike Cuthbert, national program development director.  “A very big thank you for your time and commitment to supporting the TEEEP program in South Africa.”

TEEEP was developed as part of NIU’s participation in PASCAL International Observatory, which has a strong focus on economic development, especially for areas with high levels of unemployment. 

“In a nation where the unemployment rate for young people ages 19-26 is over 52 percent (and nearly 75 percent for young women in that age group), there is a great need to generate new jobs,” explained Dempsey.

“One avenue for job creation is through entrepreneurship. Currently, most entrepreneurship education programs in South Africa are aimed at young adults. TEEEP was built on the premise that building an entrepreneurial spirit in children before they reach their secondary school years will have greater potential to help create future entrepreneurs.”

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