Competition, not so healthy after all

Competition, not so healthy after all

Excessive pressure to excel builds unnecessary stress on the students.

Recently, while interacting with a new batch of students about their achievements and ambitions, I observed that many of them took pride in their success stories and the extracurricular activities they had participated in. They perceived the current education system as a means of gaining skills that would enable them to win competitions and make them successful in life. However, ‘success’ as regarded by them is the one’s ability to gain material well-being. 

The younger generation, today, is raised along these lines, ‘‘One’s success in life depends on one’s competitive toughness.’’ But, a thorough look at this line of thought reveals to us that emphasis on competition has done more harm than good to the psychological and social well- being of the youth.  

Limited testing

We orient the youngsters to believe that winning competitions is a vital aspect of being successful in life. This creates pressure and pushes them to the extent of ending their lives for failing in exams. The parents fuel this trend as well when they make their children worry about their position in the academic class rank. This creates a hierarchy in their minds.

Our examination system, which is essentially a test of memory, has been emphasised as an effective system to guarantee one’s intellectual worthiness. It is a common sight, students taking coaching classes or tuitions after school or college hours in order to perform well in competitive exams. They are expected to be focused and are convinced to sacrifice their freedom and happiness at present in order to work towards success to be sought in an unknown future. As a result, they lose the essence of their youth and, for them, happiness and freedom become unrealisable posterior inducements of life.

 The Oxford Dictionary defines competition as “an activity or condition of striving to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others.” Defeating someone, in order to win, is necessary only if the competitors are aspiring to the same goal. In this world of boundless possibilities, competition creates a sense of scarcity and makes the students anxious. It makes one see the other as a potential threat to his or her success. Thus, the students are made to feel that gaining something involves successfully denying it to others. 

Competition leads to the creation of categories by constructing winners and losers. Losers become the reference point for the winners to define their self-identity. In other words, in the absence of any loser, winning doesn’t make sense. Winners enjoy socially sanctioned power, prestige and privilege, whereas the losers are looked down upon. In absence of this division, the enthusiasm and energy for competition declines. Also, competition renders injustice to the losers by draining them of their confidence and morale. 

For the convenience of comparison, idea of competition stresses only the similarity of the competing talents. It does not always stress upon benchmarks of standard and quality, rather it occurs between any two people having varying levels of a ‘particular’ talent.  

Simplistic agenda

The goal of the competition is to find a winner with little regard for the quality of performance. Competitive excellence need not indicate an absolute measure of a talent. Rather, it is the result of the comparative advantage of a competitor participating in a competition. It establishes only a relative standard of excellence. 

It is obvious that no great scientists just strove to be slightly better than their predecessors or contemporaries. They contributed as much as they could. Competition shifts the focus of an effort from contribution to winning. It reduces the humane and social considerations involved in innovations. It has the tendency to be result-oriented and is least bothered about self-realisation.

Reading a book to win a competition gives a different experience from reading it out of interest. Competition makes education an instrument at the hands of the greedy to gain luxury. Using education as an instrument to achieve something alienates students from the pleasure and the very purpose of education. The terms ‘positive competition’ and ‘healthy competition’ have become mere oxymorons. 

It is necessary to reduce the importance given to competition in today’s educational system. Education must be aimed at drawing the best out of an individual as Mahatma Gandhi emphasised. It can lead to the realisation of one’s maximum potential only when there is a mutually supportive and stress-free ambience.

Thus, to overcome the negatives effects of competition, both the teachers and parents have to create a conducive ambience that would help children identify, sharpen and develop their natural inclinations and interests.  Education has to play the pivotal role in curbing the negative and anti-social attitudes, if any, arise in the process. It is the duty of teachers to make the students understand that the objective of education is collective well-being through self-enrichment, but not a one of mere self-aggrandisement by success in competitions. 

Education must not become a commodity that is purchased and sold later for a better prize in a competition. It should not be reduced to a tool intended to be used for achieving material well-being alone. For, it involves character building and creates exemplars in a field.  It must keep the spirit of inquiry and humanism alive in us. 

 Competition may produce ‘better’ products in a factory system. But, neither the educational institutions are factories producing success nor the students the spare parts or raw materials. Institutions are a place of learning and every student must be given the opportunity to introspect and grow their potential from within.

(The author is associate professor of Sociology, 
CHRIST, Bengaluru)

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