Showing Life Opportunities: Increasing opportunity-driven entrepreneurship and STEM careers through online courses in schools

By Igor Asanov, Thomas Åstebro, Guido Buenstorf, Bruno Crepon, Diego d'Andria, Francisco Flores, David McKenzie, Mona Mensmann, Mathis Schulte on Friday, 26 April 2019.

Photo by Ousa Chea on Unsplash

This trial was funded by the IGL Grants Programme in collaboration with the Argidius Foundation, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and Nesta.

How might a government encourage more opportunity-led entrepreneurship and science-led innovation careers at a large scale? This question was the starting point that led us to begin some research to consider why the youth are not choosing these careers. Perhaps young people not have relevant skills and knowledge? However, it seems that even if young people do have the right skills, they might not believe they can choose these career paths.

To address the issue of STEM take up and promote high-growth entrepreneurship, countries and governments can provide courses and attempt to change beliefs about the career prospects on these industries. It can be argued that by teaching skills that are relevant to entrepreneurship and science in schools, while also improving the effectiveness of these courses by providing role models and information about the prospective careers, young people would be more likely to be interested in high-growth entrepreneurship and STEM careers. To test this idea, we have partnered with the Ministry of Education in Ecuador and plan to work with 110 schools (more than 30,000 students in high school).

How can we ensure that the programme can easily be scaled to a national level? How can we make the programme cost-effective at scale?

We hope that this programme will help young people see the benefits of high growth entrepreneurship and STEM career. Moreover, the Ecuadorian Ministry of Education is willing to scale this programme to a national level if it proves effective. Although this is good news, it still leaves us with many questions. How can we ensure that the programme can easily be scaled to a national level? How can we make the programme cost-effective at scale? To solve these questions, we decided to deliver the programme online.

Online courses have a huge advantage because they are standardised, cheap, and easily expandable. However online education is very different from the standard face-to-face  education. On one hand, online courses can be more engaging because we are able to use use animated videos that appeal to young people. On the other hand, there is less interaction and students can lose interest after a few lessons.

To overcome this shortcoming and to control for the effect of online education by design, we decided to develop placebo animated video courses from the standard curricula for the control schools as well. We designed and developed these courses, and plan to implement these courses in the same way as treatment courses. We will also provide courses in a different order in different classes to mitigate the order effects and to better estimate the effectiveness of each course.

Students receive entrepreneurial soft skills (personal initiative and negotiations) and science courses (scientific thinking and statistics) courses in the treated schools, whereas control schools receive placebo courses. We will also test if some classes benefited from the role model videos and information about job prospects. We will pilot the programme in May 2019 and provide a general intervention in Autumn 2019. We will measure the short-term outcomes during and immediately after the intervention, and plan to follow the students after they finish school as well.