The contribution of realist evaluation to critical analysis of the effectiveness of entrepreneurship education competitions.

By Catherine Brentnall, Iván Diego Rodríguez and Nigel Culkin (published November 2018)

The contribution of realist evaluation to critical analysis of the effectiveness of entrepreneurship education competitions.

This article explores the effectiveness of entrepreneurship education (EE), particularly the use of entrepreneurial competitions and competitive pedagogy, through a realist evaluation (RE). RE is an approach designed specifically to understand why particular complex programmes/interventions work. The approach assumes that programmes such as EE would produce the same successes when applied to different contexts, similar reasoning in each instance as to why it has succeeded and similar intermediate outputs for successful outcomes to occur. Such an approach can be regarded as an act of organised scepticism in which claims about a programme are challenged and alternative theories are equally explored. The authors examined 11 publications produced by the European Commission to evaluate the reasoning behind EE programmes produced in such policies, recommendations, best practice guides, curricula and national strategies. Competitions feature as an integral part of EE strategies and teaching methods and are the focus of this paper. Competitions are widely used in EE as they can be used as an assessment method, they raise the profile of activities and attract the attention of media outlets and the private sector.

Amongst the benefits of competitions declared for student in EE European policy and guidance between 2006 and 2016, developing skills, increased motivation, inspiration from peers and student rewards were identified. The authors’ cross-examination reveals that competitions can lead to unforeseen outcomes, particularly for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds who receive less personal and institutional support than their more advantaged peers. Students from higher socio-economic backgrounds have a greater capacity to utilise teacher commitment, family capital and school organisation. Literature on the subject of EE has acknowledged that students from independent and grammar schools are over-represented in EE competitions. Winners are able to use their victory as social or educational capital at a later time. The research concludes that the benefits and positive outcomes of EE are by no means guaranteed and may not be an effective programme for all students of all ages in every context.

This article is currently ‘open access’ on SAGE, which is available here.