Increasingly, public school education is emphasizing business skills along with basic verbal and mathematical literacy in an effort to help tomorrow's business leaders acquire the skills they will need to help the U.S. remain competitive in the world market. The skills necessary to do this include critical thinking and other decision making skills; protocols and etiquette for in-person, written, and electronic communications; digital literacy; financial literacy; and ethical decision making. Although many of these skills can be taught in classroom settings, the most effective preparation for business is to tie classroom learning in with real world applications and supplement it with real world training.
Keywords: Keywords; Accounting; Business Education; Critical Thinking; Curriculum; Economics; Ethics; Leadership; Social Responsibility; Team
Why Study Business?
Historically, public school education has focused on helping students acquire basic mastery of the "three Rs" — reading, writing, and arithmetic — with enough other information to help them become good citizens of their community, country, and planet. The way this latter goal has been interpreted over the years has changed with the times. Today, for example, it is much more likely to see public school students study environmentalism in order to understand their impact on the world around them rather than home economics or shop, which in the past would prepare them for traditional gender roles. Despite these changes, however, the necessity of teaching the three Rs remains; no matter what career path students choose, they will need basic literacy and communication skills and must be able to perform basic mathematical operations in order to be eligible for jobs that will allow them to achieve their dreams, or to acquire the further education needed to do so.
The trouble, of course, is that young people often find it difficult to make the connection between learning basic verbal and mathematical literacy skills and other subjects taught in schools with the exciting futures that they envision for themselves. As a result, there are grocery clerks or fast food workers who cannot make change or telephone salespersons who must go through an entire prepared script in order to answer a customer's questions. Many high schools and even middle schools offer business courses to help students better understand the applicability of the skills they learn and to prepare them to study business skills at a college level or to enter the workforce after graduation (Canada Ministry of Education, 2006).
Business curricula in public schools are typically designed to help students acquire basic business skills rather than specific workplace skills. Due to the virtually unavoidable necessity of interacting in business environments, these general skills will be necessary for success in the 21st century. For example, even students who go on to pursue careers in medical fields will need to have skills for organizing and setting up an office and the accounting skills necessary for adequate cash flow. Similarly, those who go into artistic fields will need to be able to market and sell their works or performances or to be able to oversee the activities of managers and agents.
Goals of the Business Curriculum
Although the details of the business curriculum vary among school systems, there are several core areas that should be considered in a business studies curriculum. The first of these comprises the basic knowledge and skills needed for success in a business environment. One of the skills that are essential for success in the workplace is critical thinking. This is the active, disciplined mental process of conceptualizing, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information and applying it to problems. The data used to inform critical thinking processes may be obtained through observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication. As opposed to non-critical thinking, critical thinking goes beyond the mere acquisition and retention of information to process and evaluate the information and discern an appropriate course of action or thought. Critical thinking is essential to success in many business activities, including strategic planning, understanding and reaching one's target market, and making day to day decisions regarding the course of the business.
A related basic skill needed for success in business is problem solving. This can be viewed as the application of one's thinking skills to determine the optimum solution to a problem given the parameters and various elements of the situation. Problem solving abilities are important in business for the full range of business activities from day to day decisions through strategic planning.
Closely tied with these skills needed for business is the ability to understand and evaluate risk. Risk is the quantifiable probability that an investment's actual return will be lower than expected. Higher risks mean both a greater probability of loss and a possibility of greater return on investment. Risk assessment is the process of determining the potential loss and probability of loss of the organization's objectives. Risk assessment is one step in risk management. Risk management is the project management process of analyzing the tasks and activities of a project, planning ways to reduce the impact if the predicted normal course of events does not occur, and implementing reporting procedures so that project problems are discovered earlier in the process rather than later.
To provide the data needed to make sound business decisions, students must also learn good research skills not only for online and library research, but also for collecting and analyzing their own data. All these skills are necessary for strategic planning, which is the process of determining the long-term goals of an organization and developing a plan to use the company's resources — including materials and personnel — in reaching these goals. It is essential for a business to have a strategic plan of action to help the organization reach its goals and objectives. A good business strategy is based on the rigorous analysis of empirical data, including market needs and trends, competitor capabilities and offerings, and the organization's resources and abilities (Mahinda, 2006).
In addition to the intellectual skills necessary for success in business, students also need to learn interpersonal skills. The ability to relate well with employees, management, and customers, for example, can be the difference between success and failure for both a business and an individual. Increasingly, work in the 21st century requires teamwork skills. A team is a special group within which there is skill differentiation among members and the entire team works in the context of a common goal. Team members are committed to the goal and mission of the team and have a collaborative culture in which the members trust each other. Leadership of a team is shared, and members are mutually accountable to each other.
Whether one works in teams or as an individual, virtually every 21st century workplace in the western world requires knowledge of personal computers and basic digital literacy. Personal computers have become the backbone of most businesses today and are used for a wide variety of tasks from writing memos, conducting routine business correspondence, performing mathematical and financial calculations, and designing and updating web pages. These skills are needed whether a student decides to go directly into the business world after graduation from public school or to go on to higher education at a university or other institution. Among the computer literacy skills that need to be acquired are the fundamentals of operating systems and computer hardware, word processing and data input, data management, and information systems technology (Canada Ministry of Education, 2006).
Students expecting to enter the business world need to be familiar with basic application software programs that perform functions not related to the running of the computer itself. Word processing software, for example, allows the author of a document to create, change, edit, update, and format without the necessity of sending the document off to a typing pool. Similarly, bookkeeping and accounting procedures that once needed to be done painstakingly by hand can now be accomplished quickly — and can be easily changed or updated — using spreadsheet or other accounting software. Entry level positions for some business professions may also require basic proficiency in special application software packages such as graphics packages, photography editing packages, or...
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