The Numbers that determines Us: the flaw of the educational system

Image Credits: Wall Street Journal [1]


The educational system is arguably the most important aspect of a young person’s mind, and how that system is shaped dictates how future generations approach and tackle our world. Nelson and Dawson’s “Competition, education, and assessment: connecting history with recent scholarship” [2] puts that statement into scientific research, with their main goal being how competition must be moderated in the educational field, and how the two are quite inseparable. I found it hard to disagree with their claim and noticed that the structure of their article really hammers in their point perfectly. My argument leans towards what the authors are getting at and that is I see that competition has infested the educational system, and we must contain it when needed. I see that competition in education is rather counter-intuitive to the goal of the educational system, which is to better the knowledge and skills of the students.

When the focus is shifted from competition to cooperation this entire loop of being better than everyone else is finally broken. This in return will help students not have this ever-present worry of being overtaken by a fellow colleague but rather help them focus on improving their own skill sets. Competition in education has run amuck to the extent that Nelson and Dawson even described it as a “rat race” (p.304), and this constant fear has caused the mental health of students to deteriorate. Our current belief that competition is an absolute necessity in our education sphere has given way to many harmful habits that have become the norm, as the authors said “students compete with one another for the highest marks, for limited educational resources, for scarce scholarships and ultimately for a better place in the ‘rat race’ of a competitive graduate job market.” We have reached a point in society where we have this adamant believe that competition is good and without it, our educational system collapses, this idea is manifested perfectly I believe when the authors say “If there is no competition between students, some teachers may become anxious that the students are not sufficiently motivated; indeed entire pedagogical approaches have been developed around promoting competition.” Competition has infected the hierarchy of the educational pyramid, and Jessie’s “The flaws of favouring competency over competition: a critical analysis of the current educational system” [3] greatly talks about how this fear of failure and acceptance of competition has created anxiety within students and even their parents, and also how it has helped mental health issues arise due to competition.

The educational system must strive to achieve a sense of cooperation amongst students and also breed a feeling of togetherness within the community. The students of today are the captains of industry tomorrow, and when they learn to work together and harness their true potential only then can they better the world. This should be displayed in the classroom with students focusing on their own betterment and not beating Student X in Test Y. The authors seem to agree with me as they stated “what matters most is a student’s absolute ability to do something, rather than their ability relative to others”, for most of our lives we are compared to other individuals by numbers and letters on our degrees, this has made us into machines and made us lose our sense of humanity. We must look to help struggling students and get information from students who seem to be over-achieving, school is meant to be this hub of knowledge, not a place to stifle confidence. Natalie Lapierre’s “Corporation in Schools: an Avenue to Progress” [4]  brilliantly echoes the sentiment I am trying to create here, she talked about how must share this responsibility of spreading education throughout the school. We often see the knowledge we acquire at school as some sort of forbidden fruit [5] that we aren’t meant to share with anyone, that is far from reality as we will be working together in the future, so why not share our knowledge from now and expand upon it?

However, I do not call for the complete eradication of competition but I advocate for what the authors have said earlier, and that is competition and education are inseparable. I believe that Jinmanabe’s “Competition in Academics. Motivation or discouragement to do better?” [6] perfectly encompasses the point I’m trying to prove here, he calls that when competition arises and we have our “winners” and “losers” that we should learn from one another and it should give us this spring in our step to achieve better next time. Without some sort of competition, I believe education might stagnate or plateau, this is also expressed by the authors when they critique the “pass/fail” system or grading as it is too obscure. Competition must be put in check as if it is not then we have ourselves a zero-sum game [7], and that will only lead to major problems within our educational realm.

Education is the key to a successful future, but excess competition might just be the downfall of that future before it even started. Not everyone can handle this side of our educational system, as the authors said (p.306) “Students with depression are particularly vulnerable to the ‘dark side’ of competition”, and that is something we as a society must not let continue. In an academic sense, cooperation is the way to go, too many generations were lost due to our obsession of being the best that it might have gotten the better of us, and I sadly believe that it has gotten the better of me as well.


  1. Your response to Nelson & Dawson’s atricle is incredibly well articulated and your use of references to other related articles is brilliantly executed. I agreed with every single argument you made (which rarely occurs).
    You mentioned that students should focus on their own betterment, which they definitely should. Speaking from personal experience, however, I’ve met several people throughout the course of my school life who believe that their improvement must come at the espense of someone else’s academic success. I feel like the whole system of grade ranking kind of perpetuates this belief, which can lead to superiority complexes for those who consistently outperform others quantitatively or the people that supposedly benefit from this system.
    I would like to know your take on the measures that can be taken to change a system that is so deeply engraved into human society as well as the mentality of those whom the system “favours”/ those who believe that the current system is not flawed.


  2. I completely agree with you that such an overbearing sense of competition in our education systems runs counterintuitively to the goal of education itself, as such an emphasis on grades does not encourage progress. However, can’t skills sets still be improved when a student strives to be better than her or his colleague? Additionally, does competition itself give way to harmful habits, or is it the value we give to the concept of competition which accomplishes this?


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