Should Competition be Institutionalized Within Education?

It seems to be almost natural for humans to compare themselves to other peers of close circles in related atmospheres, which can lead to healthy forms of competition and collaboration morphed together, as one in an active educational approach. I find Robert Nelson and Phillip Dawson’s argument on competition within education to be well versed as he takes a historical approach towards the blend of competition and people coming together as a means of collaboration. His focus on the Renaissance thriving from competition from within, between artistic peers being a healthy form of learning competition. In fact, comparing the encouragement and collaboration between peers from these forms of competition would not be an exaggeration from his point of view.  By using Vasari’s biographical example of artists constructive critique and engouement among peers displays the differences between the systematic views seen in grade and exam formats in education systems. In contrast to this example, Nelson denounces the systemic “outside” forms of competition based in education and claims that they do not provide more incentive for learning or creativity. This is interesting as this strongly relates to Garcia’s social comparison model in competition. She argues that we tend to compare ourselves in modern society with closely linked peers in related environments.  To what extent does modern forms competition in education come from the top down rather than from down up? Competition has now become institutionalized everywhere including educational settings and it is time to consider the effectiveness of the benefits it brings to learning.

We also see this weeks supplementary reading in Chen’s research paper about Game based learning, where she used interactive video games for educational purposes on children, one with competition, and the other without. The one without competition had instructions to help children learn the solutions in a less time restricted manner.  Hence the results found that children where more attentive and willing to learn through non-competitive versions of the video game, displaying that strict competition and learning are not synonymous. As mentioned in venellopegrace7719′ reading response, competition in education settings “causes of severe mental health cases, for instance, stress, anxiety and depression”. It is rather interesting however to see that institutional forms of competition in education are relatively new and do not relate to the same mentality as ancient societies had in regard to learning. Rather the lines between competition and collaboration in ancient learning environments become more ambiguous and tied together compared to the more systematic grading contests we see today. In Chens experiment the ways of non-competition were more similar to the “competition” seen between artists in the Renaissance era. They had instructions, interactive methods without time restrictions, constructive criticism to compare their performances, yet without systematic grades or definite failures. Hence, with these examples, it brings one to suspect the effectiveness of modern institutional learning methods we see today. in a new tab)



  1. Hi matmot1,
    I really enjoyed this post, you really highlighted and emphasized me to question how effective is institutional competition or if we even need it at all. Your post really pieced together your perspective on the papers argument and was then able to find examples to support it. A very well done piece. I was wondering if your post mainly tried to examine the disuse of competition today, about how or what would you say the institution should do instead?


  2. Hi there,
    I really liked your idea on how competition has now been institutionalized from the top bottom and not necessarily from the bottom top. You stated that it is now the time to consider the effectiveness of said competition in an institutionalized form in education but what are your thoughts on it? I believe that in the wider lens of society, it definitely is effective in terms of progressing knowledge about our world as a whole. In addition, this can be seen to be done by looking through neo-liberal concepts where education has turned into a market of competence. As it also pushes everyone to become the most competent as they could be by beating all the people that they could beat and giving them overcomeable challenges to rise even further in terms of competence. Therefore, producing the best and most knowledgeable people that a society could produce, given its ‘already selected hand’ of people with different capabilities. Which is definitely a good thing in moving the realm of knowledge forward in the world. That being said, this would only stand if we assume that said people won’t be put off by competition and will not be discouraged by it and will only be encouraged. So, I’m curious to ask what other viewpoints you may have to this because there are definitely may other perspectives to look at, students, educators, as society is only one of the many we could explore.


  3. Hi matmot1,
    This is an interesting review. I really love the idea that the spring up of prodigies in Renaissance attributes to the benign competition. And I think it’s kind of fascinating that all the talents in that time, such as Leonardo da Vinci, they mastered the knowledge more than one field (even ten fields) which seems surprising these days. Maybe modern institutional learning methods are the true impediments for us to become better leaners.


  4. Hi Shaina, thanks for your comment. Based on our readings, I do not believe that competition between peers should be restricted completely, but as Nelson explained, the efficacy of having it forced upon them systematically is questionable for many reasons. Some students do not absorb knowledge well under certain competitive circumstances and could be discouraged from further learning based on their self-reflection of their grades. I believe that the education system should look at some alternatives to learning; such as eliminating the grading system and replacing it with a pass/fail as seen at MIT.


  5. @chuxuanz Thanks for your comment. That is exactly right, the Renaissance really exemplifies the importance of learning not just being a forceful process by contouring every unnecessary action, but to make it a passion and lifelong process of finding what interests each individual through collaboration and peer competition. I have spoken to some who finished their University degree who have told me they were happy to never read another book again, which is quite despairing in my opinion.


  6. Hi Aaron, Thanks for your comment. As you have said, there are certainly positive aspects of this post-modern education system in place today that establishes a market of competence. But does that mean we cannot have a skillful job pool without competitive education? Perhaps we are leaving some naturally talented gifted people falling through the cracks due to the institutionalized education system. For example, Einstein was not considered a strong student, others have dyslexia which is not functional for a typical education setting but can have its strengths in the “working world”. Moreover, through examples discussed in the readings, many students who are perfectionists, simply become discouraged from learning if they have some struggles achieving a certain grade. Others who are successful perhaps only attempt attain the high grade by contouring the minimal possible amounts of work to achieve and “win” the competition”. My point of view on this is whether we should perhaps look at reforming some of the elements within an education system that is based upon the industrial revolution to fit a more modern, lifelong approach to knowledge.


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