Ways to Dismantle Competition in Schools

स्कूल में कम्पटीशन को कम करने के कुछ तरीके – इस आर्टिकल को हिंदी में पढ़ने के लिए यहाँ क्लिक करें

“स्पर्धा नष्ट करण्याचेमार्ग” – हा ब्लॉग मराठी मध्ये वाचण्यासाठी, येथे क्लिक करा

We noticed in the last few months, many students wanted to “stand first in line”, “always wanted to win the race”, etc. We recognise that all students are unique and they need their time and space to complete their activity. So we decided to work on dismantling this unhealthy competition among students.

What is the competition? 

Competition is often defined as “the activity or condition of striving to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others.” This sense of hierarchy, of defeat and superiority, is closely associated with the word competition and it is what comes to mind when we think of competition within school settings as well. Competing for more and better marks than another, a higher rank, and the first prize in a race are all ways in which competition shows up in school. 

But what if the purpose of education and life is not to establish our superiority over others? What if we lived our lives in harmony with each other, celebrating each other’s uniqueness?

When we think of competition, I think about my life as a student. I used to face competition every now and then from learning to playing games and doing activities that led to a lot of peer pressure. My self-esteem used to get low whenever I used to make up my mind – thinking that next time I would do better and whenever that next time came, I did better but my teachers never appreciated me for moving towards doing a little better than past learning. 

I have seen in this world of competition, parents pressurize children which leads them to experience many mental health conditions ( such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem) just because they want their child to succeed.

We asked our team, why is excessive competition problematic. Here are some of their responses:

  • Too much pressure from parents and coaches to win 
  • having too much on the schedule
  • not wanting to play the sport
  • Building Pressure.
  • Increasing Risk of Injuries.
  • Confusing Commitment with Exclusivity.
  • Developing Poor Attitude.

Ways to dismantle competition

From our work, we cull out some ways we can move away from unhealthy competition and create a more cooperative environment amongst students.

Stories and Conversation 

At Khoj, where we are trying to create wholesome engaging, inclusive learning spaces for our students, this idea of competition required rethinking. We aim to center our students’ well-being in all things that we do.

Rashmi writes, when I noticed my students getting excessively competitive, “standing first in the line”, “I will complete my work first”, etc, one day, I sat with them in a circle. We spoke about “why do we need to come first?” 

I asked, “When you all completed the activity, Didi appreciates each of you. Why do we need to come first?” 

We then talked about how some of us need some more time to do the activity and some of us do it quickly. But we all are doing the same task. If we all want to compete then can we all compete with ourselves? Which means “hum Aisa soch sakte hai kya mai agli bar is time se bhi achhi drawing banaunga ya banungi (can we consider thinking that I have done so much this time. Next time I will do this drawing better than this)?”

I use children’s literature a lot to facilitate such conversations. For example, I showed them this story, The Little Playful Ant to facilitate a conversation on this.

I explained the story without the audio and recreated it in my words saying that even if the ant is different in colour and takes some extra time to complete its task, all black ants were with the red ant. We then debriefed together using these questions, “Did they tease the red ant for being slower or did they try to compete with the red ant?” 

Many students noticed, “No they didn’t.” 

Often, I work to ensure that when planning an activity for my class knowing that there are different learners in my class I always make sure that my instruction and planning are done accordingly so that every student will have an equal chance to do the activity.

Sportsperson spirit and not competition / Focused on learning rather than winning

During Physical Education, we were playing the “passing the ring activity”. After the activity, we discussed, “what did we learn from this activity?” This shifted the conversation from winning/competition towards learning.

I shared with my students, Gunjan writes, “there are many games we play in which we all not good yet but there may be some games in which are good. For example, Mumbai Indian cricket players may be good at Cricket, but may not be able to play Kabaddi very well. Likewise, I am not very good with computers. There are many functions of the computer which I really don’t know how to use. However, I can coach in sports very well and can carry heavy weights.”

We further talked about, how it’s ok to have feelings about winning. We asked ourselves in the class, what are the different feelings that come to us when we win or lose?

We then discussed how there might be someone who wins the race one day. We need to give our best in the race if the result is in our favour then great. Life me bahut sare aasa situation aayange ki hum win nahi karenge but tabi hame sad wali feeling bhi aayegi (In life, there may be situations where we don’t feel and sadness may visit us then). How can we in these situations remind ourselves of the joys of just playing? Or competing with ourselves? Doing better than the last time? Giving our best efforts on that day? 

Here are some other ways our team at Apni Shala responds to such situations:

“Rather than giving my students first or second prize certification, we give them participation certification.”

Class Norms ko yaad dilana ‘learning ek journey’ hai aur hum sab is journey me alag alag points pe hai. Hum koshish karenge ki hum jahan bhi hai, usse thoda aage badhe hum ye nashi dekhenge ki yaha kon sabse aacha karta hai hum dhyan rakhenge ki hum sab mil kar kaise idea nikalenge (remind my students of the class norms that ‘learning is a journey’ and all of us are on different places in this journey. We will try to move forward from wherever we are to the next place we want to go in this journey. Instead of thinking about who does best, how can we ideate together on doing better together.)”

When we were talking to our colleagues we noticed how talking about competition brought some different emotions from their childhood, the challenges they faced, and the solutions they created. Many shared that they wished some of their facilitators/teachers had told them when we were students, that it’s okay to make mistakes, It’s not about who is better. It’s about each person doing their best, Laying down norms, Consistency, and Being conscious of language; for example, not using words like a fast and slow learner, and creating buddy systems in the classroom to create support for each other instead of fighting for a spot with each other. 

As educators, we have come to believe that competition destroys the fun of games, sports, and learning. Rather, we believe in healthy conversations.


Rashmi Shinde is a Junior Kindergarten Class Teacher at Khoj. She has completed her B.Ed. She likes to read children’s storybooks. Her favourite story is Gorilla and the Boy, and Lost and Found. 

Gunjan works as a Physical Education Teacher at Khoj. He has completed B. Pd. He likes to do fun-based activities with students. He also thinks of himself as a foodie.

Acknowledgement: To understand diverse perspectives on this topic, we talked to our colleagues who are teaching at Khoj or are part of the Apni Shala Fellowship. Many of the strategies to dismantle competition in schools and create a healthy community are what they practice and have shared. We particularly want to thank  Lalita, Niranjan, Mausam and Saesha.

Translator: Sannidhi Shetty

 Referenced article


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