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What is it to be in schools – competition or cooperation?

20 Apr

Many eons ago, as the education officer for schools in a London local authority, I was given strict instructions not to promote competition among youngsters – especially in sport.  The reason?   It was important to build the self-esteem of all pupils.  Putting pupils in a “lose” situation would deflate them.   The concept of winners and losers was anathema.  All must have prizes.

Zafar Ansari, the Surrey cricketer and Cambridge graduate with a double fist in politics and sociology had decided to retire from the sport at the tender age of 25. He was struggling to cope with the competitive ethos in cricket which he intensely disliked.

Ansari wrote in the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack: “It goes without saying that competition is a foundation of sport: to be competitive is clearly an advantage, providing the mental framework to maximise the chances of success. Yet, as my career progressed, I felt uncomfortable conducting myself in this way. This feeling emerged, in part, from a broader left-wing perspective, which informed my approach to life.”

He was also wary of “a professional culture that treated the uncompromising pursuit of victory as essentially virtuous.” Ansari has now quit professional cricket and is working for Just for Kids, a charity which supports underprivileged children, while studying to become a lawyer.

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What’s in it for me?

1 Jan

As we stand on the cusp of another US Presidential inaugural address and, with bated breath, wait to hear what the newly elected President-designate, Trump, has to say on 20 January 2017, I cannot help recalling John Kennedy’s speech 56 years ago, in particular, his stirring conclusion: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country……..Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask for you…..”

We have just come out of the festive Christmas season.   In many households, the occasion brought a glut of excess – over-eating, over-sleeping, over-drinking and everything else that could smack of degeneracy.   However, it was also a season of giving. In particular, I am thinking of the thousands, if not millions, of those who gave up their own celebrations to be of comfort and bring happiness, joy and companionship to those that were much less fortunate than themselves.  In particular, I pay tribute to Crisis at Christmas, which established centres all of the country, providing succour to thousands of homeless people – with warmth, food, drink, medical attention and counselling.   This would not have been possible without an army of volunteers.

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Lessons learnt from the demise of Kids Company

25 Aug

Kids Company, the children’s charity, closed on 5 August 2015.  Reactions across the country were mixed because Kids Company was very much an exotic curate’s egg – magically good in parts – but questionable and self-righteous in many of its practices.

The charity’s founder, Ms Camila Batmanghelidjh, established Kids Company in 1996 in Camberwell, South London, providing a range of support for extremely vulnerable children, including runaways, the neglected and those permanently excluded from school.   It had a policy of never turning a child away.

Over the 19 years of its existence, the charismatic Ms Batmanghelidjh raised over £160 million from the good, bad and ugly – individuals, organisations and the government.   In April 2013, it received £9 million from government to cover two years’ work and £30 million over its lifetime.

However, for several years, a number of people expressed serious concerns about the waste of resources, the most recent being Ms Camilla Long, correspondent and feature-writer of The Sunday Times, who in May 2015 visited the Kids Company.  She wrote a semi-satirical piece on her findings on 5 July 2015 stating, in so many words, that she was mystified by what she saw during visits she had made over two days.  Continue reading