What is the best educational system?

When people talk about competition, sport is the first obvious area that people talk about, and education – though some may reject this ideology – comes second in your mind. Robert Nelson and Phillip Dawson’ “ Competition, education and assessment: connecting history with recent scholarship” allows me to deduce another definition of competition this discipline: competition means “striving and running together rather than against another.” Using this definition and Nelson & Dawson’s article about competition in education, I will further expand this scope into the educational competition in Asian and examine the similarities or differences to that in Western cultures.

Asian education? 

When people talk about Asian educational system, the first few keywords that come out of their mind is “competitive”, “harsh”, “good at maths”,…Ever since, that stereotypical that Asian students are good at maths and sciences become a label. A research has been done to spot the general terms when describing an Asian student: “committed, diligent, competitive, passionate, focused and ambitious”. But the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results can explain this stereotypical: East Asian countries – Taiwan, China, South Korea, Japan – continues to dominate this tests. The typical Asian mindset and culture about education that “You have to be first-rate, otherwise you may not be able to survive”. Students are expected and pressured by families to receive high grades in class because at the end of the day, that is their main goal and purposes of learning. In China, students spend up to 65-77 hours to study a week, where they attend late-night tutoring sessions where they called “cram school”. Not just China, from personal experiences, I know some Korean friends who would have their extra lessons finished at 3am in the morning. The parental and socially pressure that these students carry on their shoulders strive away their motivation to acquire knowledge, but to compete against another to be on the top. To a certain extend, it can be argued that the competitiveness in Asian culture can be a motivation for students to learn as having a “hyper competitive attitude” can be seen as a social norm. In Asian educational system, there is no fear to compete with each other as it has become a mainstream phenomenon and ideology that is crucial in education, conforming to the idea that Dawson and Nelson’s mentioned in their articles: “without competition, students have less motivation to learn”. 

Best education system in the world is non-competitive 

The World’ Economic Forum’s ranking to the best school system in the world comes out with Finland at the top. This has been quite surprising as this disapproves the belief that competitive environment allows student to strive as Finland’s system values cooperation over competition as they believe competition between school doesn’t get kids as far as cooperation. It follows Romance’s belief that competition does not integral with learning and teaching. (Nelson), at the same time support’s Barron’s argument that cooperation is necessary in society. Here is not to deemed down the accountability of Asian, in general, and China to be more specific’s educational system, but to question why people still values and prefer a competitive learning and grade-focus institution rather than focusing on the learning process. 

Competition makes our learning more superficial, losing that “integrity” in education. (Nelson) When grades are the only motif for people to learn, this can inevitably lead to cheating, which is equivalent to losing the integrity of learning. It can be argued that without competition in education, students may find it harder to be motivated to do things that have “positive externalities” (things that are beneficial to students learning yet are under consumed), such as attending a tutorial class takes up 10% of final marks.

Competition can be viewed as an performance-booster that thrives people to challenge themselves, yet for different cultures the definition of competition that Nelson and Dawson brings up in their articles are different as I have shown above with the examples of China and Finland. 

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