In at the deep end

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If free markets and Big Government keep SMEs up at night, why should we expose children to both?

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Billy

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20 June 2019 | 0

I have only had a chance to skim through the Seanad Public Consultation Committee Report on Small and Medium Sized Businesses in Ireland but, at first glance, it seems to be a comprehensive and informative document that lists the challenges faced by SMEs in Ireland and makes a number of recommendations on how to address them. It covers a range of different industry sectors, including ICT, along with business issues such as finance and funding, recruiting and retaining talent and procurement.

Among the headline findings is the call for a Junior Minister for SMEs. The committee’s chairman, Senator Paul Coghlan, argues that this would help “to develop SME policy that fully embraces the diversity of the SME population and the challenges and opportunities this brings, particularly in the context of international developments”.

The report argues that SME strategy in Ireland to date “has been piecemeal, primarily as a result of foreign-owned investment taking central position in industrial policy and, as a result, shaping of the economy. Initiatives that have been brought into place over the past quarter of a century in relation to SMEs and indigenous activity have centred on high-growth, export-oriented and technology-driven enterprises; are designed mostly on an analysis of national-level business conditions; and are implemented mainly through national and local semi-state organisations”.

It makes the case for a more diverse and comprehensive SME strategy to cover the varied nature of business ventures in Ireland and the different “degrees and forms of innovation underpinning them”. And the government needs to recognise that there are “distinct entrepreneurial ecosystems at a subnational level” as well as regional “concentrations of industrial activity in Ireland”.

A cynic might think that now religious education is seemingly on the way out in Irish schools, it looks as if it’s going to be replaced with lessons in the newer religion of free market capitalism instead

While much of what the committee suggests is laudable, I feel slightly uneasy at what it has to say about education and entrepreneurs. In his preface, Coghlan writes that the committee “heard that entrepreneurial education should be made part of the school curriculum, starting at primary level”. He goes on: “Embedding entrepreneurial education into formal education will be of real benefit to children for the rest of their lives as it will tap into their entrepreneurial skills at an early stage. Mr. David Walsh, CEO, Netwatch, reminded the Committee that the entrepreneurial mindset comes at a very early age when families discuss business at the kitchen table”.

On the back of this, the committee recommends that the government should “embed entrepreneurial education into the formal education system from primary school through to third level. This should involve connections between employers and educational institutes to jointly create and deliver entrepreneurship-related streams that students can pursue to develop entrepreneurial skills”.

Let that sink in for a moment. Primary school. That means that children as young as seven could find themselves being subjected to an entrepreneurial education Really? Is that we want? A cynic might think that now religious education is seemingly on the way out in Irish schools, it looks as if it’s going to be replaced with lessons in the newer religion of free market capitalism instead, What exactly would entrepreneurial education consist of for children at such a young age? Setting up micro businesses to trade the contents of their lunch boxes? Developing their own apps to organise car shares to school or do each other’s homework? The mind boggles.

I can’t be the only one who thinks the focus on embedding entrepreneurial education into schools is weird. If you think about it, more kids will become parents than entrepreneurs but there aren’t any committees arguing parenting education should be embedded into the primary school curriculum. Arguably, they would be much more beneficial to society as a whole than entrepreneurial skills. For those inclined to argue that primary school is too young for parenting skills, I agree. But the same goes for an “entrepreneurial education”.

To put it another way, if we redesignated SME as small and medium education, we should leave the small kids to enjoy being small and wait until they’re medium before we start thinking about turning them into entrepreneurs.

China in your hand

I don’t doubt that there are serious security concerns over Huawei’s networking equipment and the possibility that there are backdoors which could be exploited by the Chinese government for the purpose of espionage. I don’t know for certain whether the same anxieties should also be attached to the possible existence of similar backdoors in networking equipment sold by US companies that could be accessed by US authorities.

What I do know is that, in the absence of any clear evidence, it is notable that in the first test of how much companies would stand up for customers in the face of governmental interference, there has been one major company that has buckled – and it isn’t called Huawei. Days after Donald Trump’s blacklisting came into effect on 17 May, Google revoked Huawei’s Android licence. A spokesman said it was “complying with the order and reviewing the implications”. Meanwhile, those people in Ireland unfortunate enough to own a Huawei phone find themselves in limbo, cut off from future updates of Android.

I’m sure the irony of this decision is not lost on most people when you consider that Google can probably collect more data about a user from an Android-based Huawei phone than the manufacturer itself.

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