Cooperation vs Competition in Education



Finland (Photo credit: Spigoo)


Our school system institutionalizes competition among schools and students.  We believe that competition fosters excellence and this mindset pervades every area of schooling.  The entire school system is based on comparisons and competition between schools which  are unequal in quality, student intake and resources.  Schools, teachers and students are then unfairly judged and graded through the results of high stakes tests administered to almost all students despite the inequalities in the system, such as poverty, affluence and stark differences among schools.  It is not surprising that our schools are beset with problems and that many students are struggling academically.  Competition victimizes many schools, teachers and students.

I share the views of Perry W. Buffington and other thinkers who affirm that cooperation works better than competition in schools.  Scientists have verified this in countless studies.  Cooperation is a better route to success for students since they learn better when they work together.  When students work together as a group and share information and resources, learning increases.  In contrast, when students compete against each other, they often withhold information from each other in order to get better grades than their peers.  They are driven by individual self-interest.

Cooperation increases creativity, teamwork, self-esteem and a sense of belonging.  It promotes the development of a true learning community.  Critical thinking and leadership skills flourish in a cooperative effort when everyone is focused on the same learning goals. Teachers can guide this process and work together to integrate learning across the various disciplines.

We can learn a lot from Finland relative to cooperation in education.  According to Wikipedia and other sources, Finland has one of the most successful systems of education in the world.  Finnish students have consistently placed at or very near the top of international examinations for students, for several years.  Finland is seen as a model in this respect.

In Finland equality is the goal of educational policy, not excellence.  however in pursuing equality they have also achieved excellence.  All students in that country are given the same opportunity to learn regardless of their socio-economic status or where they live.  Cooperation, not competition, drives education.  Finns believe that education eliminates social inequality.  All students attend publicly funded comprehensive schools and there are no private schools.  all students get free school meals, health care, guidance and psychological counselling.  Teachers are highly qualified, trained, well paid and respected, and schools are given a large measure of autonomy.

Finland’s educational success cannot be denied.  Many other leading western countries, with systems of education based on unequal competition, lag far behind in international tests of student attainment.  Cooperation is better than competition.





7 thoughts on “Cooperation vs Competition in Education

  1. I agree with you 100 percent – this has been my philosophy all along. The best thinkers – Maria Montessori, Loris Magaluzzi (Reggio Emilia), John Dewey, and my hero, Janusz Korczak (and the subject of my blog here at WordPress), all shared the belief that cooperation is the best way and that undue competition is a violation of the dignity of the child.


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