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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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