On Competition in the Global Era

Competition in the classroom: perhaps one of the longest enduring debates on teaching methodology to date. Through the training programmes I have conducted both for local teachers here in Indonesia and for teachers from around the world, I continue to see a fairly even split between those who say competition in the classroom is a good thing and those who say it should be avoided.

I might discuss my stance on that particular debate in another post. However, the point of competition has entered a new domain recently, and that is what I will discuss here. A popular topic for seminars and the like of late is how to prepare students for the “global era”.

I am often invited to talk about this topic, and when I run my own workshops on teaching methodology, I build it into my materials. It is particularly germane here in Indonesia at the moment because the ASEAN member countries are in the process of implementing a free trade agreement, which will, for one, allow for freer movement between the countries for certain professionals seeking employment.

When I talk about skill-building in the classroom, I usually ask teachers why they think skills such as critical thinking, creativity and leadership are important, especially against this emerging backdrop, and often the answer can be summed up as follows: “Because we want Indonesia to be able to compete with other countries and Indonesians to compete with foreign professionals”.

I certainly supportthe basic notion of competition in the classroom (again, more on this in a separate post). However, I find it very interesting that even though many teachers are against competition in the classroom, a common overarching goal of education is to produce students who can compete globally. This irony amuses me; however, this is still not the point I wish to address. I think the reason that this goal of competition is so widely held, at least here in Indonesia, is because the current attitude of society and of the government is oriented that way.

As globalisation becomes more and more apparent and reaches into the lives of more and more citizens, there is growing a sense of panic, it seems, and an urge to compete and to rise above other nations. While I certainly understand the importance of not being left behind, I’m not sure that this is the right attitude to take.

I feel that it would be more beneficial in the long run to engender a more collaborative culture, such that the goal of education for the global era focus more on producing students who can work together with those from other countries and cultures in order to make greater progress. I strongly endorse the idea that collaboration is a key factor in much innovation.

I think that by being open as a nation and as a people to working with other nations and peoples, we create opportunities for more innovation, faster progress and greater success, both economically and socially through the development of technology. I find it troubling that, as globalisation becomes more and more real, so many countries seem to be responding by strengthening their borders and closing their minds.

And even where borders are opening up more through agreements like the one coming to ASEAN, the people within those borders still seem to be more intent on finding ways to keep intruders out and protecting their jobs, etc. than on embracing the opportunity for collaboration. The political agreements themselves are focused far more on trade between countries than on coming together to work for a common good.

I think that competition in the classroom is valuable, and I do not shy away from using it; however, I don’t think that it should be used to encourage competitiveness but rather to simply equip students to face the competition that exists in the professional world. On a larger scale, though, I think it is essential that we develop our students’ collaborative skills and encourage an attitude more open to collaboration and outside input.

Being competitive does not have to be an attitude; it is a natural state when somebody performs well. If you do the best you can possibly do in your particular field, then naturally you compete with others in that field, and I very strongly believe that if you truly want to do the best you can do, you’ll be wise to work with others instead of working against them.

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