By Natalia Dokla
Humans, like many other living organisms, are programmed to survive. It is only natural that we compete against others to establish dominance, earn respect, and make ourselves a harder target. In the context of school, students experience the adrenaline of academic competition when they try to establish academic superiority over their peers. The presence of competition in a learning environment is inevitable. In our school, it is visible through day to day school-life and long-term achievement.
At the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, high school students were introduced to the revised student recognition system, Warrior Awards. In the student handbook, the system is described as, “one that develops the ‘whole child’ and is more accessible to all students, should they decide to pursue, on a non-competitive and inclusive basis, high achievement in four different categories:”
Although there is no single position the school holds on the subject of academic competition, ASW’s general goal regarding student recognition is “for all students in our school to recognize and develop their unique talents and interests,” at least according to the student handbook. “We endeavor to recognize and honor them in a manner that aligns with our school’s mission, Core Values, and the IB Learner Profile, one that embodies fairness and inclusivity and one which will inspire and motivate everyone to become better in everything they do.”
But does this new award system really affect the level of competition in our school? Should ASW even be trying to eliminate competition?
In response to this question, Ms. Beyers, a high school French teacher, replied, “Competition is a part of life. You find it everywhere and I don’t think you can really be for or against it. It just exists. What each person has to decide for himself is whether or not he/she wants to be part of it. People who decide they do want to be part of it are motivated by it, others not so much. Personally, I think the only person you are in competition with is yourself. You should work for your own improvement or to make life better for others, not because you get recognition or an award.”
Based on my observations, the difference between healthy competition and unhealthy competition is sportsmanship. In a healthily competitive atmosphere, students are encouraged to work hard in order to maintain dignity. Dignity is not acquired by trickery or mischief but is a result of diligence, dedication and hard work. Students involved in healthy competition are supportive of their peers and push each other to work harder by working harder themselves.
Collaboration, on the other hand, is an idealistic concept. In an academically collaborative atmosphere, there is no set goal. The motive is to help each other. This kind of environment is unattainable because, realistically, students will feel discouraged when their hard work is not recognized or reflected in their status.
Ninth grade student, Merry M, seems to be involved in the competition. She says, “Competition motivates me because it makes me want to do better and do more, and you’ll have to be better than other people in order to win the competition. Collaboration is indeed good but I don’t see if that’s going to make you do better, because you can just rely on others who are collaborating with you.”
“Any type of competition motivates me because it makes me feel that I did it and that I can do it again. It can be a test, sports, etc,” says Bill L, also in the 9th grade.
Competition prepares students for life after graduation. After high school, the days of constant care and attention from our family and peers are over. Suddenly, you will find that you need to fight for your rank and work hard to achieve success. This will be overly hard, however, if it is the first time you are put into a situation like this. In high school, students should be taught to take initiative for their grades as those values will be of use to them in their later years of life.
“I think it is one of ASW’s strengths that it accepts all kinds of students. Some students may be motivated by academic competition and they will take any chance they get to compete, but it should not be at the heart of a school like ours. It is much more important that each student learns to recognize his/her own strengths and weaknesses so they can prepare for the future and have a realistic idea of what they are capable of achieving and enjoying in life in many different areas. That is what school should help them with,” says Ms. Beyers.
Bill L. thinks that competition “is the chance for everyone to get better at doing something they didn’t know they can do.” He thinks that “It can improve the community of ASW by the fact the everyone is participating in different clubs and activities they never did.”
“I think that although competition isn’t the most healthy academic atmosphere, it also provides motivation. So I think ASW should promote some competition, but just enough to motivate students to do better in school, not so much it distracts from their learning” says Abi B., grade 9.
Abi B says that ASW provides limited opportunities for academic competition. “To be honest, the only place I see competition is in CEESA activities,” she says. “Everyone wants to be on the team and travel, so they try hard to be better than everyone else. Other than that, most sports and activities are just friendly competition, not professional.” However, Abi B also says “I don’t think that a school should have a very competitive atmosphere.”
On the other hand, Mr. Sheehan thinks that “There is competition all over this campus, particularly in the realms of athletics and activities, where teams face off against opponent schools in tournaments and other such events. There is also competition in the classroom, where students compete against themselves and each other to do better academically. The most prevalent, visible form of competition exists in athletics. The participants of the sport, whatever it is, live it, and the rest of us — the fans — are able to see it played out in its full glory. However, we also see academic competition emerge at the end of the school year when awards season arrives and students vie for the top academic honors of a particular course or for a place on the old honor roll or principal’s list. We tend to see the unfortunate byproduct of this on the faces of the many students are not eligible. They are not fans, nor are they thrilled with watching this.”
The principal’s list is a standardized student recognition system that rewards students with an A grade average which, in our school, is equivalent to straight sixes with at least one 7. Many found this system to be a cause of concern because of the negative emotions that erupt among those who were not able to reach the standards. This was also supposedly a result of the competition. These factors led to the creation of the new system of honors.
ASW is “beginning a new system, one that develops the ‘whole child’ and is more accessible to all students, should they decide to pursue, on a non-competitive and inclusive basis, high achievement,” says Upper school student handbook.
Abi B thinks “that although it is, in fact, accessible, that may not be a very good thing. From my understanding, the Warrior Awards allow students who aren’t very motivated or involved to still get recognized even though they didn’t do anything really worth recognition. This makes the awards less of an accomplishment.”
Ms. Beyers says that “It’s too early to say. You can’t really judge a system that hasn’t even had a trial run yet. We’ll see what happens at the end of this school year.” She also adds, “I think competition will always exist and so I am not sure if these Warrior Awards will lessen it. Maybe, in a way, they will because students will be more inclined to look at all aspects of themselves, not just academics, and try to understand what they personally can do better without comparing themselves to others.”
As Ms. Beyers said, we will just have to wait and see how the trial run goes. Until then, the main focus for students should be striving to achieve their best under the new system.