Learning is not a Competition

I recently came across a blog post by Alicia Bayer in her blog Magical Childhood. She wrote that  there is a societal pressure for parents to make sure that their kids do well in school, even at 4-years old, often through comparing it with the achievements of other people’s children. She argues that kids develop in their own pace and that

“…being the smartest or most accomplished kid in class has never had any bearing on being the happiest. We are so caught up in trying to give our children “advantages” that we’re giving them lives as multi-tasked and stressful as ours. One of the biggest advantages we can give our children is a simple, carefree childhood.” – Alicia Bayer

I admit that I do have this tendency to compare myself with other moms my age, whenever I see their status messages in Facebook that their children can speak at a younger age, or if they are doing well in school, etc. Though I am trying to calm myself every time I  catch myself doing that with the notion that every child is different and will eventually develop at their own pace, so there’s no need to stress myself over it.

In a blog post for EDS 103, I also wrote that we are teaching kids to fear failure at a young age by enrolling them in special classes for math or English even before they enter formal schools.  I think because parents tend to be so competitive in terms of their child’s achievements we are also sending the wrong message across that for a child to excel in life, they should get good grades and supplement their formal education with all sorts of after-school tutorial activity.  I don’t think that tutorial activities are wrong, it’s just that sometimes a lot of parents tend to overdo it.

Sometimes I observed that formal and traditional schools tend to propagate such perspective as well. In some schools, students are ranked according to their grade averages, which somehow affects how students perceive themselves. If they belong to lower-ranked sections, the students are labeled as slow-learners compared to those in higher-ranked sections.  While learning interventions may be necessary for “slow-learners”, such segregation and labeling could affect a student’s sense of self.

What would be good alternative? Some schools have done away with labeling sections according to numbers (e.g. students with higher grade average are in the first second, and so on). Students can be ranked heterogeneously based on other learner-centered characteristics.   Alternative assessments other than grade averages should also be used. Schools and teachers can also give PTA conferences that would change parent behavior and attitudes towards grades and parenting competition.


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