I don’t know about you guys, but I have feasted on a steady diet of top-notch competition during the past two months and I have absolutely loved it.
As always, this year’s French Open and Wimbledon tennis championships have produced fantastic matches and unbelievable individual performances while next door in South Africa football’s World Cup has dished up both team and individual displays that have bordered on poetry in motion.
Competition can be a very positive force and I strongly believe aspiring athletes should test themselves against the stiffest competition possible so they can strive to reach their full potential; but that doesn’t mean the rest of us should be competitive all, or even most, of the time – I mean, hey, life isn’t a game and we don’t always have to get ahead at the expense of others.
The key area I’m thinking about here is education. This may not go down too well with some of you but I would really like to see far less competition in the classroom.  Please don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that grades should be dropped altogether, but I do think far less emphasis should be put on how well our kids do on tests and more emphasis should be put on teaching them how to learn and instilling in them a thirst for knowledge instead of a fear of failure.
What I see here, in the UK and in the United States, is students, teachers and administrators chasing grades so that they can all look good compared to other students and other schools.  Unfortunately, chasing grades through an academic career can easily lead to chasing money through the rest of our lives, and that certainly isn’t what I want for my kids – just as I don’t want them to wind up with mates who value material possessions more than relationships.
Of course tests have there place in the learning process – they are great attention grabbers – but one of the really interesting things about them is that I’m sure I learned more from the ones I failed then from the ones I nailed, so I think it is extremely important for teachers to provide plenty of follow-up after the exams.
The other thing that bothers me about our competitive school system is the effect it can have on the kids who, for whatever reason, don’t get top grades.  Did you see how terrible the Ghanaian players felt when they crashed out of the World Cup on penalties?  Do you really want any kids anywhere to feel like that because they haven’t managed to learn what someone else decided was important?  Maybe that seems like an extreme comparison but I really don’t think so.
I chose this topic because of two pieces of news I’ve just received from overseas.  The first came from Cambridge and implied I should be more proud of my daughter than I already am because she aced one of their O-levels.  The second informed me the 19-year-old son of a friend who left Botswana two years ago tried to hang himself because he wasn’t making the grade in Australia. Fortunately he failed; but once again I think there may be more to be learned from our failures than from our successes.

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