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How competition in school prepares children for future success

“It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, as long as you tried your best.”

This is often said to help children come to terms with suffering a defeat of some sort. In fact, this valuable lesson only applies where competition exists. Competition breeds excellence and cultivates cooperation. In a school environment, competition is a means to prepare children to face the real-world challenges, and encourage them to do their very best.

Some of us had positive experiences with competition as students while others had encounters that were painful or at best not enjoyable. I personally have positive and negative memories of my time in both primary and secondary school. These often related to how a lesson was delivered, how the teacher engaged with me and whether I saw a purpose in the lesson. As adults, we reproduce our own views of competition formed as students and apply it to teaching our students and children. Consequently, we may be operating from unexamined assumptions; as a result, it is possible that our students are paying a price for our lack of awareness.

By definition, not everyone can win a contest. If one child wins, another cannot. This means that each child comes to regard others as obstacles to his or her own success. However, education professors Thomas Good and Jere Brophy argue that children can learn powerful lessons in an environment that promotes competition. Competition encourages engagement, mastery of a task, and a desire to achieve your best. It teaches critical thinking and teamwork. My parents ensured my siblings and I were exposed to competition from an early age. We were taught to understand winning and losing are part of everyday life and that it is how we respond to this that is important. I learnt about competition through my participation in many sports, both in a team and as an individual.

Competition is central to schooling because it teaches children the lifelong lesson that failure can occur, and when it does, they learn to identify the problems, remedy the deficiencies, reset their goals, and grow from their experiences. People are naturally fearful of falling down and making mistakes. A high tolerance for failure is, therefore, important for the development of a resilient and confident individual. As educators and parents, we should accept that failure and error-making are a necessary, intrinsic, and welcome part of the learning process. Healthy competition in childhood encourages risk-taking and persistence – qualities that are vital for success in the real world.

Current research has found that children in a competitive environment play longer than those in a non-competitive environment and have a greater sense of competence. In this context, competition fosters intrinsic motivation in an individual, the inherent desire to engage one’s interests and to develop one’s capacities. When they can’t see the value of a lesson, children experience motivational problems.

At The Arcadia Preparatory School, we deliver exciting, engaging and challenging lessons that meet the needs of every child. As a teacher, I wholeheartedly believe that if a child wants to come to school, if they are happy and feel safe, then they will learn. The next step from here is for a child to use the tools provided to achieve success and identify areas of weakness, whether this is individually or as part of a team.

We live in a competitive world. There is competition in finding a job, buying a house, and applying for university. Most political systems are built upon the principles of competition. In such a competitive world, how are you supposed to come to terms with losing as an adult if you have been sheltered from it as a child? How are you supposed to learn to be gracious in victory or defeat if you have never experienced either? A childhood devoid of competition is damaging because it instils a sense of entitlement, that a ‘win’ is deserved merely for participating, and not for the quality of the performance.

Also Read: Healthy body, healthy mind!

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