As the excitement of the popular business reality show, Shark Tank hits the Maltese TV screens and heads off to find the next “big thing” in Malta, students at Verdala International School (VIS) have been participating in their own version through the Junior Achievement Young Enterprise (JAYE) project. While not as cut-throat as Shark Tank, it is also about presenting a potential business model and product to a panel who every year hand out awards that offer inspiration for these up-and-coming student entrepreneurs to experience the pressure of planning and pitching.

JAYE is heating up in the final months as students nationally and across Europe participate in this annual event. VIS has participated in this Sixth Form project for many years now, with previous wins including Best Company programme and Best Leadership representation.

Our business students have always relished the opportunity to take what they have learned in the classroom to the real world, innovatively coming up with proposals such as converting fishnets into bags, carbon-negative wallets made of cork, and clever drink covers that prevent drink spiking; notably the JAYE criteria challenge young people to incorporate an ethical purpose to their products.

Post-16 study is a milestone for young people. In many countries only a small percentage continue with education. Governments may offer incentives to entice students to stay on, as for some the appeal of earning is much more fun than carrying on in an academic institution. Without available apprentice schemes the less academic oriented students may simply suffer through the last few years of school.

While schools can push national standards until 16, beyond that, young people crave independent thinking and are taking ownership of their own pathways. And it is evident by those who fail or struggle that we may box them in too much. Post-16 models need to allow for this independent thinking and give young people more opportunities to choose and perhaps specialise in their kinaesthetic or verbal strengths.

In many cases, post-16 colleges have tried to provide this through a range of courses, however in some cases this option is too disconnected and piecemeal. In contrast, schools can offer something that colleges don’t always have, which is continued care for the young person’s well-being, which, depending on their development, they may still need. Making choices and learning how to learn continues beyond post-16 even if the student thinks they are ready for the big wide world because they are fed up with authority.

At VIS we have been rethinking our post-16 options and have embraced an alternative pathway by offering the International Baccalaureate (IB) Career-related Programme. This personalised vocational programme has a 21st-century approach, with only a couple of academic subjects, and in the case of VIS, an intensive BTech Business programme. It offers something that the IB diploma has not harnessed yet – the personal and professional growth skills needed for an ever-changing world.

Our current start-up cohort have proved themselves to be vibrant thinkers who come to school challenged by discussion, debate and problem-solving. Learning how to present and utilise social media, research and prepare reports are much-needed skills for an increasingly complex job market.

Each student is assessed through a reflective project focus on an ethical dilemma of their choice. Our students are currently asking questions such as: “Is smart farming a solution?”, “Are microtransactions in iGaming ethical?”, and “Should businesses invest in a country which has exhibited human rights violations?”

As we prepare our students for a rapidly changing world, being able to recognise right from wrong and the ethical challenges around a business model is only going to make them more competent, and hopefully, principled entrepreneurs. JAYE has tied ethics neatly into their challenge, as they are evaluated on their business sustainability, environmentally conscious approach, technology and digitisation, scalability, and presentation and soft skills.

Being able to recognise right from wrong and the ethical challenges around a business model is only going to make them more competent, and hopefully, principled entrepreneurs

Shark Tank may be about the next big business idea, but JAYE is fostering bolder ambitions by inspiring young people to find the synergy between a profitable concept and the responsibility we all should have of nurturing the world we live in.

Totty Aris is head of Verdala International School.

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