A little friendly competition is always healthy they say… and they are right. For the most part. What happens when competition is no longer just friendly? What happens when competition turns into an ugly fight to determine who is superior and who is inferior? Is it still healthy then? The truth is, as much as some of us like being on the winning team, we must admit that, in certain cases, competition is the exact opposite of healthy – especially on a school level.
Sure, where school sports are concerned, competition is welcomed. The benefits are, needless to say, numerous as well as obvious. Furthermore, rewards for good academic performance encourage students to perform better and be the best that they can be. It is the whole idea of insisting on ranking schools (at the secondary level) based on academic performance, the act of pitting them against each other is what irks me because it creates a dichotomy that encourages discrimination and stunts progress.
I come from an island – St. Lucia – where the two most prestigious secondary schools are always showered with praise when final examination results reveal what any blind man could have seen coming from a mile away: a recorded pass rate of 98-100%, making these two schools first and second on the island. The media then proceeds to break down, in detail, the best and worst results, delimiting a clear-cut hierarchy of the best and – to be utterly blunt – worst schools on-island. Now it is not so much that I have a problem with this but I have a problem with the unintentional (or intentional, who knows?) messages that it may convey and the attitudes that it may encourage in students.
Of course, every parent (and every student as well) has a right to know the academic performance of their schools, or would-be schools. Why should the parents of a primary school student be pressured into sending their child to a particular secondary school just because the school in question “topped the island?” However, let’s get closer to the point: my general observation is that the students originating from schools reputed to have the best academic performances develop a certain superiority complex, a distinct snobbishness that gives them the right to believe that any student not smart enough to enter the halls of these last vestiges of a bygone colonial era that they cherish, is somehow below them. The attitude may not always be outwardly expressed, neither is it necessarily written on their faces – although some would say otherwise. The mentality remains, however, deeply-rooted in the minds of some. Even the appellations “convent girl” and “college boy” connote, to some extent, the level of prestige that sets them apart from their fellow compatriots. This moniker is not merely a form of identification, but also a recognition of their membership in a particular exclusive group, a recognition of the high value of their social currency and a status conferred upon them that seems to imply “I’m better than you because my school is better than yours.”
Maybe I’m exaggerating here and maybe I’m asking too much by wishing that less emphasis be placed on the ranking of schools and more on the individual results and what can be done to improve them. Perhaps my quarrel really has to do with the whole outdated idea of single-sex schools and their exclusivity (because while we may clamour for equality, we hang on doggedly to an institution that resembles, in some ways, an aristocracy). All the same, it seems only fair that we stop encouraging a society wherein the privileged and prestigious stick together, thereby perpetuating a culture of discrimination and inequality, and instead promote healthy competition. Competition is only ‘healthy’ when we all start on a level playing field, not when some of our young girls and boys are, from the outset, placed into schools on the supposed basis of merit and then told that some (deliberately selective) schools are better than theirs.