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Does competition belong in education?

I can't speak for other nations, but as far as the United States is concerned, students are constantly competing for the best test scores, top school rankings, and the best educational resumes relative to their peers. This is a major problem that has been overlooked for decades. (For the most part) Students aren't genuinely trying to develop themselves intellectually, and instead are just trying to stay ahead of the curve-- because that's the key for success in the US public education system. It has become a nasty cycle in the US that has been continuing for decades. I think there is a good chance that it leads to higher college drop-out rates and post-educational problems in particular.

I'm curious to hear your thoughts...

  • Jun 29 2011: Looks like I am the dissenter here. I think competition is good only for those kids who are inherently competitive. Others might be overwhelmed and may just feel like giving up. This is one reason why a one-size-fits-all system is not good.
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    Jun 29 2011: I think competition is good but only with oneself.
  • Jul 4 2011: This is my experience:
    Competition belongs to duality, meaning making somebody a winner and the other loser. Competition is making enemies, good and bad, me and the others.This system of competition trains students to feel superior or inferior, which is a feeling of separateness: Here I am and there is the world: feeling of not whole, not complete, not in oneness. This feeling of separateness, keeps you always searching for the feeling of ONENESS. You try always to win, but you can never arrive at the state of being whole, because you cannot find it anywhere outside, in winning a competition.
    Education suppossed to be including and not excluding. Education is supposed to show you the way to make friends not enemies. Education needs to be a mentality of feeling a part of a whole, not a feeling of separateness.
    More and more humans recognize that this system of competition is not working anymore.
    It leads to enemies and more and more struggle. Competition cannot be the purpose of life. Education supposed to teach us, to flow through life, in peace and not in struggle. Next stage is, to make a decision to change this state of being.
    Humans have the absolute ability to chose and change their life conditions.
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    Jun 29 2011: I agree somewhat with Christophe in that competition can be useful in some cases and combined with co-opreation.
    My problem with competition in this case is what the fitness function is. What are the criteria for success in out education systems? Doing well on standardised tests. This causes the education to mould itself to fit the test and the test to mould itself to the re-moulded education causing a feedback loop that imo has greatly distorted modern education.

    Take math for example. Most people have no idea about the underlying reasoning behind lots of maths they must learn. Is it too hard? No, if anything it makes everything easier. Is it boring? No it makes it all more relevant and interesting. The reason is because its not needed for them to put the correct ink squiggles down on the paper to get the best ink sqiggles back from some exam board.

    Competition is all well and good when limited and specific in scope but when the entire system is based on a monolithic form of competition things seem to be going wrong.
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      Jun 29 2011: Simon I agree with you on Mathematics.
      I took up to Calculus in High School and hated math the whole way, in college I was only required up to College Algebra, so that's all I took. Luckily enough my professor explained all the concepts and reasoning and I walked away with a love and respect for math.
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        Jun 29 2011: Yes I'm somewhat similar.
        I find it really frustrating. If students and teachers were free to explore things rather than rigidly craming facts and data to pass some test then learning on all subjects would be enjoyable and more successful.

        I'd like to see how education could work if we removed the barriers between subjects too. For example a discussion of calculus could lead to issac newton and a small biography of him. This could lead to a general historical background of the time when newton wrote pricipia mathematica. If i'm not mistaken this was at the time of the plauge so the conversation could lead there. From there into the biology of the plague. From there into more general biology...
        And so on. The direction of this could be influenced by what the students and teacher find the most interesting to discuss, keeping the interest of all.
        Obviously this would not impart all needed knowledge for all situations but it would be a nice supplement to other forms.
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          Jun 30 2011: A good teacher would and should grab those 'teachable moments' whenever they arise.

          I never had any qualms about dropping what was planned and following any topic my students raised or found particularly interesting - I work as a Primary School teacher and have that sort of flexibility (within reason) in New Zealand.

          Education needs to take ideas like yours on board but to be free to teach in this way, we need to radically rethink assessment practice.
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    Jun 29 2011: Yes, competition is a motivator (we humans are comparing animals, and we want to be better than others)

    But, one must also offer other motivators, and different levels and diversity in competition.

    I would also like to point out that cooperation and team work can be combined with competition.
    And one can create positive sum game competition: where the winner is the one who wins most (no real loss for those who end up later
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    Jul 2 2011: For education answer is NO.
    For Certification answer is YES.

    Scores you are talking about students are competing for, is actually CERTIFICATION process.
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    Jul 1 2011: Maybe competition is just what we need. Just not what we are doing....check out this talk:
  • Jun 30 2011: Competition belongs to comparison.When a student gets 100 % and other person of his class gets 60% and go to their parents ,they say "see him how he got the percentage ...".The other words of expressing it is comparison is the main shield for competition.This does not retain with us but also with India.Here the society is appreciating only the person who scores more marks just by reading his concerned book and vomiting it in paper.The people is not thinking about the practical application and practical knowledge of the person.Even the parents are expecting high percentage marks from their child.
    The only way to oppose competition from education is
    "Education must not be confined with the particular books,it must be changed to practical application"
    If this method is adopted then comparison and competition leads to creativity and development for their future. Even though hearing this is good but the adoption in our present educational system may take years.The other alternate is practical development in homes. Instead of leaving children to watch television or to sit in front of computer, parents must spent time on talking to their children and must divert his concentration towards solving puzzles, Sudoku and also on Mentally,physically innovative games.
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      Jun 30 2011: You bring up a good point with grading. Some subjects and parts of subjects make sense to grade. Math for instance. Some history, knowing dates, some science knowledge of basic terms. This ensures that a person has a solid foundation to build upon. The problem is when we get stuck on this methodology. How do we grade how well a paper is written, or whether an science experiment will yield fruitful results. It would be interesting to see what would happen in instead of rewarding children with grades we reward their mastery of selected facts with more time to study independently of structure and grades.
      • Jul 1 2011: Thanks for your involvement by your comment.My suggestion is history and some other theory subjects will not help us in our daily practical problems.These are just taught in schools for our knowledge.My opinion is to bring the practical application in some subjects regarding their department that will help for their future jobs.This can be brought through their creativity upon their respective topic in their subject.For example,for a mechanical engineering student instead to teaching from only book confined to different types of engines, teachers must get the ideas from the student upon further development of this engines in terms of efficiency and other factors.I think now you can understand my point of view and if any doubts, expecting your suggestions....
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          Jul 1 2011: I'm all for increasing the amount of practical application in the class room. As well as providing much needed real world skills, it is a great way to engage children and, increase their self esteem. Where I think I'm going to disagree with you is when you say "theory subject will not help in daily practical problems". Should education only concern itself with solving daily problems. Theory subjects such as history may not help in day to day life, but it gives a perspective that can make people better citizens. They can make more in formed choices when voting, be more conscious consumer, etc etc. I would argue that a key part of education is developing people as well as teaching them skills.
      • Jul 2 2011: What i want is education must not be confined only to their subject books.In India ,for example parents are changing the mind set of students by increasing pressure on them by expecting more marks from their children.The students are lost their creativity just by thinking only on marks.Education must be as a support for a person's development.Either by present form of education a person can get a job,earn money and lead his life,But i think that the purpose of education must rest in increasing creativity.In the past centuries, some scientists could invent computer, Aircraft, telescope etc.. Just because they are expected a thing and since it is not present they started to create from their own.Now in India the schools are providing text books and the students are reading it.Just in spite of providing text books the teachers must give the respective topics and tell students to collect information.In India this is happening only in the areas of higher engineering.Why shouldn't the process be implemented from the primary standard levels.This helps in more innovative and creative mind thinking which will automatically improve them for living in the society.
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          Jul 2 2011: True too many schools kill off creativity. Like I said I'm all about getting kids involved in hands on problems. And if theory subjects are taught properly they will enhance creativity not diminish it.
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    Jun 29 2011: One thing we must consider is that children are not only in school to learn content, but also to gain social norms. If we push competition and only competition on them they will internalize those beliefs and we will have a much more cut throat society in many ways. Do we want to live in such a world? We need to think about this because what ever world we are putting them in now will be the world we live in in 20 or so years.

    I don't see us returning to the egalitarian ( at least for white males) culture of the 50 60s culture. We discovered our individuality and with that we have a bit more social strife. At the same time I would love to see more emphasis on corporation , creativity , critical thinking, and other such ideas that are a bit harder to quantify.
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    Jun 29 2011: The answer depends on the system as a whole. In general, competition is healthy, but where it develops to be a purpose in itself, the results are unpleasant. For example, most forums have some sort of posting counter, intending to motivate the people to be active. However, the most efficient way to get a high posting count consists in simply writing many replies with poor content. Therefore, such forums use to have problems with low quality, immature users and spamming. A rare forum that abolished this measure experienced a progress beyond all expectations, but at the same time gave up an incentive for activity by this.

    I think we should first make clear what we are trying to achieve. In Germany, students expect from society that it pays them for having a great time at university. They consider it to be the duty of the cashiers and truck drivers to finance not only their studies, but their academic interests, too. Only then would they be "free" to engage in intellectual activities. Attempts to introduce a practical and economic orientation of education, let alone having students pay for it themselves during or after their studies, are extremely unpopular here. So if the goal is to grant students every time to learn what they currently feel like without pressure and responsibilities, then the idea of performance tests and competition stands in clear opposition to it.

    Only after defining the goals we can evaluate how appropriate certain measures are to reach that goals. And the goals differ between individuals, social strata and societies. So what is the supposed purpose of education according to you? Specifically the education provided by the taxpayer, not the upbringing by the parents.
  • Jun 29 2011: Competition is a great motivator, but I think that breeding students that outcompete others has become the GOAL of the education system rather than a motivator. Equally unfortunate is that the competition is largely judged on these silly standardised tests and exams which students cram for, retaining very little of the content. I once attended a lecture by a professor who refused to grade his students, claiming that it was detrimental to their education, and choosing to teach practical principles (ie. why is the sky blue?) rather than the usual "cram the information down their throats until they have no more desire to be curious or learn" approach. Truthfully, I dont believe any teacher would freely choose the latter approach, but with the amount of information they must impart for their students to outcompete others, it becomes the only method. Of course, the professor was unfortunately dismissed for his failure to "do his job", even though his intro physics lectures were always overfull.

    As the population expands, job competition will become fiercer, and this competition will trickle down into the education system. As a student, I am already sick of it ---- at each level I have gone in with the hope to find interesting people to share ideas with, only to find that most are too busy trying to outcompete the others. If someone could design an education system that minimises competition that would be a great idea. Perhaps the first step would be to have education be driven by an intrinsic curiosity rather than a push to have a degree just because ...