Is Education a Competition?

First of all, no, this is not going to be a blog post about educational games or gamification. Sorry if that is what you were looking for. This is about the literal interpretation, why is education presented as a competition?

Many months ago, at the beginning of the semester of my “Preparing Teachers to Use Technology” course, I had my students watch “Shift Happens”. The message behind this short video is that those of us in the U.S. had better get it together preparing our student for the tech heavy jobs of the future because China and India are breathing down our necks and they have WAY more college grads; ie, a lot of people out to take jobs away from our students. The students that watch this video, like most of the target audience, respond that we need to get it together so that the U.S. can stay competitive. Last semester, one student made me stop and think about the other message being sent; the message that education is a competition.

The student’s response to the assignment was a video post so I could see his emotion. He stated that he felt conflicted as he had never thought about education this way. He felt that the purpose of education was to better oneself and one’s students, not to be better than others. This conflict becomes somewhat resolved for him as he goes on to discuss that if our students are not prepared via education then students from other countries will take those 21st century jobs. But his original belief has stayed with me since viewing his post and has led me to think more and more about global education as opposed to local education, as well as what should be the ultimate goal. Is the purpose of education jobs or is it a pathway to becoming better human beings? In the future is the ability to generate an income going to be such a limited resource that we must focus on developing specific skill sets rather than allowing students to find their passion?

After reading through the current or soon to be current standards, Common Core “State” Standards and Next Generation Science Standards it would appear that the skill sets are emphasized. After all, how much creativity can develop from such narrow focus? CCSS concentrates only on mathematics and English language arts and gives a slight tip of the hat to science and other areas in that students are expected to write a little bit about them. NGSS does use the term ‘crosscutting concepts’ leading one to believe that students will be able to apply science in all areas when in fact it mainly targets applied science, aka engineering. So once again the main purpose of education, based on the standards, is to provide skills for students that help them become successful on the job market but that do not necessarily equate to the ability to apply innovative thinking to the world’s problems.  

At #ISTE13 the concept of STEA(rt)M vs STEM was prevalent, adding art to science and technology. This is actually a very old idea; DaVinci innovatively combined both, Hedy Lamarr and her neighbor George Antheil turned an experiment to automate music into frequency hopping, and John Maeda, a STEAM advocate, is very outspoken about his belief that innovation is where art and science meet. Using fear tactics by stating other countries are becoming better educated in the math and science, thus providing an excuse to focus our educational resources on a few subject areas, is very short sited. It should not be about educational competition but about providing the resources for all children to find their passion. It is about creating an educated global community that, working together, can help solve the critical problems we now face.


About Cynthia Clark

I hold a doctorate in curriculum & instruction, with an emphasis in educational technology and science education. I work for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas as the Evaluation and Assessment Specialist for the Center for Research, Evaluation, and Assessment. My current research interests include qualitative responses to course evaluations, both the development of open-ended items and their subsequent analysis.
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2 Responses to Is Education a Competition?

  1. Education is absolutely a competition but learning isn’t. My feeling about the question you posed is that Education is both a pathway to a career and a pathway to bettering oneself – but society needs it in that order. Thanks for the blog. I loved it. This is a really confrontational concept for people who haven’t thought about it before. It took me quite a while to appreciate the implications of it.

  2. Sterling, to be honest it wasn’t something I thought of until I saw my student’s video post. It was probably the look of surprise as he realized that quite a few people did feel that way that got me thinking about this. It’s been on my mind off and on for several months and even then it took a few days to formulate the post! I hope it does start some conversations.

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