Competition isn't always fair. Here are some alternatives.
Back in high school, I had this friend. Let’s call him C.
Now, C wasn’t very focused on his schoolwork, but he knew he was good at pretending - and he turned out to be cannier than all the rest of us.
C sat in the second bench of the second row, surrounded by four guys, all of whom were toppers. And during our midterms, he asked each of them to come prepared with different parts of the syllabus. None of them knew what he told the others. All six days, he looked at his paper, read it for a while, waited for the invigilator to stop focusing on us, and used their preparation to get good marks.
Imagine our surprise when, the following week, this unprepared chap got more marks than any of us.
This goes to show one thing: it isn’t necessarily the people who work hard who get recognition.
To any economics student, the word 'competition' opens up a whole world of possible inferences.
It might refer to the Classical theory of competition in a market, where no firm can set prices on their own. It might even refer to competitive advantage, which applies to a situation where one country has better access to resources over others.
But that is not what this article will address. My intention lies solely in discussing the widely accepted meaning for competition—an event, physical or mental, which allows you to show your mettle over others'.
Let's be honest: today, the results of almost every competition are misleading, and far from accurate. Malpractice in competitions, mostly academic, has become extremely common. Even though hard work deserves more merit, effort is considered abstract and isn’t recognised.
This may be because the process of taking the test is usually unknown to the people judging it, compelling them to base rankings and grades on only the final outcome. Often, this means that the work put in is not credited at all - only the final answer, which may have been obtained by any means, is.
Competitions, tests and exams are good. As one 2003 study pointed out, there are three types of competition. Real competition, being the most direct, is the competition between peers and colleagues. Perceived competition, though the same as real competition, is implicit and unseen. And third, which seems the healthiest, is competition with oneself.
In self-competition, there is no pressure to reach your goals by being unprincipled, and there is no benchmark of expectation created by a third party. You create your goals at your own pace, and finish them with ease and success.
Real competition and perceived competition, on the other hand, are subjectively moral and contain the possibility of academic or professional dishonesty due to external pressures and the urge to get ahead of others. This limits the abilities of an individual to seek excellence in their outcomes, and instead directs them towards achieving success regardless of the path one has to take. Some of these pressures are cut-throat deadlines, disproportionately little preparation time, and performance anxiety.
So: it's clear that the system doesn't work.
One might try to explain the philosophy behind how the silent witness, aid, and the accused are all equally culpable in the crime, and equally guilty of covering it up. But that doesn’t change the fact that there will always be students who feel the pressure to fit in.
After all, our current method of competition has been around for decades, and both children and parents are socialised into them. Even if we say that students will have to be less competitive to succeed, it’ll take years for true change to happen.
Therefore, I propose a solution, and one that will last us a long time.
Since every action and decision taken right from a child’s kindergarten education makes them the individual they grow to be, I associate this solution with the butterfly effect, which states that even the delicate flap of a butterfly’s wings may cause a hurricane on the other side of the world.
We already know the root of this toxic competition is the system: a system that evaluates a child’s potential based on a final exam, and judges harshly when a student does badly. Every child is subconsciously pressured to proceed with the formal process of education without even evaluating where their natural interest and potential lies.
It is time that we design a curriculum where the foundational years of a child's education involve a serious amount of fieldwork and close one-to-one analysis to identify a child's strengths and skill sets, and push them forward on those points.
The child should be taught the fundamentals of the real world, but when it comes to choosing his or her life, he should be confident about his decision. When we look at it macroeconomically, this strategy will intensify the strength of human resources and also result in a spillover effect over the country's economic growth.
Inevitably, the system will always have defaulters who will look for easy ways out even when it is changed. Most competitions are theoretical and unrealistic, given the fact that every participant is given time to prepare themselves. This also implies that the defaulters are given time to design strategies for their knowledge heist.
Another possibility is implementing Adam Smith's invisible free hand theory integrated with the procedure of invigilation. Smith suggests letting markets compete on their own, without government intervention. And, as everyone will seek to work for their self-interest, they will unknowingly end up doing good for the whole.
That is to say, when a child is left alone to learn, he or she will eventually get bored enough to learn. After all, a person who's got everything values nothing. So if we give children the freedom to open books and keep notes with them—as they do in St. Paul's Darjeeling—you get children who are genuinely interested in learning.
Having considered all the conventional ways of testing people against one another, perhaps tests must turn to a skill-oriented, application-based competition. The participant should be given only as much time they need. The testing should be holistic, measuring values, morals, practicality, and all the other factors that aid an individual to face the real world.
For many people, competition has vivid connotations and memories. Competition brings about strong emotions in all of us. But for every contest, we must ask ourselves: in the end, is it really merit that is being weighed?