Within the last few decades, the general nature of strategies used in learning and evaluation of students’ progress in American schools has dramatically changed to coincide with changing educational needs and rapid advances in technology.
Consecutive studies have revealed that performance of students in educational tasks is affected by a multiplicity of influences that includes the social economic status, language barriers, school experiences, ethnic orientation and learning styles.
To date, the established explanatory models of educational performance have remained centered on internal characteristics to explain academic achievement, including unconstructive self concept, unproductive cultural attitudes and values towards education, bilingualism, low intelligence capacity, and apathy (Madrid et al, 2007, p. 155).
However, many educators are of the opinion that these explanations are not supported by available literature. In this respective, a significant debate interested in looking at how students can be assisted to achieve more optimally in class has been in the offing. It is the purpose of this paper to detail and compare cooperation and competition approaches in relation to learning and evaluation of student achievement.
Competition, Cooperation and Human Nature
Many of the challenges that plague education in the 21st century can be better comprehended when viewed within the context of competition-corporation framework. Before getting into educational matters, it is imperative to note how the two concepts influence human nature. It is indeed true that many of the greatest accomplishments made by Americans as a society can only be credited to their strong and passionate competitiveness.
This view can greatly be supported by the US enterprise system that instills competitive views into the human nature. According to Astin (2000), “individuals [should be] given the maximum opportunity to compete with each other for the largest possible share of resources and rewards in society” (p. 182). In cooperation, human progress is viewed as a manifestation of our capacity to cooperate with each other towards the realization of some common objectives.
This view holds that achievement in every faculty of life must never be perceived as a conquest in the struggle with other individuals or as a triumph of the environment (Astin, 2000, p. 183). Within cooperation activities, people work together to achieve shared outcomes that are beneficial to themselves as well as other group members (“Cooperative Learning,” n.d., para. 1).
Brief Overview of Cooperation and Competition Learning
Educators and policy makers have used the concepts of cooperation and competition to understand the learning process and evaluate students’ progress or achievement. Cooperative learning is the instructional utilization of group dynamics in the learning process, which enable the learners to work together in the effort of enhancing their own benefits as well as that of other students within the group (“Cooperative Learning,” n.d., para. 1).
In cooperative learning, students are organized into small groups after getting the learning materials and instructions from the teacher. Learners are then supposed to work on the given task until they comprehend it as a group, not as individuals. This concept reinforces the view that success in the learning process or achievement of students must never be perceived as a conquest in the struggle with other students.
Rather, students must work hard to achieve mutual benefit by helping each other in the group and learning from each other’s efforts. In other words, success must be seen to benefit all students within the group since they share a common objective, “knowing that one’s performance is mutually caused by oneself and one’s colleagues” (“Cooperative Learning,” n.d., para. 1).
Competition learning exists when one learner is able to achieve his or her own objective while all the other students fail in their attempts to realize that objective (Gurien, Henley & Trueman, 2001, p. 192). Competition learning can either be interpersonal or inter-group.
The practice of competition learning is based on the philosophy that students must compete in a class setting for them to be competitive and be able to comprehend their learning objectives. Competition learning is a rather conservative approach towards education that seems to suggest that a student can be assisted to achieve optimally in learning through engaging in active competition with other students.
For decades now, conservatives have been in the forefront in stressing the significance of competition among students, schools, administrative districts and states to bring out the maximum achievable performance among learners in school (Ediger, 2000, p. 1). The school voucher system and charter schools in the US are good reference points of how competition continues to be used in our educational system to ignite student performance.
Competition & Cooperation in Learning and Evaluation of Student Achievement
Educators believe that both cooperation and competition learning can be used in tandem to achieve high performance though they seem to conflict each other. According to Gurian, Henley & Trueman (2001), “brain-based research indicates that the ultimate classroom be based on both” (p. 192).
However, the function of this research paper is to detail and compare the concepts with the view of coming up with the best concept that can be used in learning and evaluation of student progress. Consecutive studies have revealed that cooperation learning achieves greater success than competition learning.
The capacity of students to learn and comprehend the instructions passed to them by teachers is fundamentally important. In the same vein, evaluation activities direct the progress made by students towards the realization of objectives outlined by their respective teachers.
Therefore, the capacity to learn and evaluation are indispensable facets of instruction at all levels. Evaluation is specifically important since it offers the mechanisms whereby the quality of classroom tasks and activities can be continually maintained and improved (Kolawole, 2008, p. 33).
It is also used to establish the level of understanding of the tasks taught. Evaluating the performance of students is the cardinal duty of teachers. In most occasions, learning and evaluation processes are time-consuming, cumbersome and requires a highly technical expertise and proficiency on the part of teachers. Despite their enormity, these are indispensable tasks that form the core of any instructional activity. Teachers generally use several techniques to influence successful teaching and learning processes.
Despite its many limitations, most educational systems globally are based upon competition among learners for marks, recognition, educational scholarships and admittance to high performing schools (Kolawole, 2008, p. 33).
Consecutive studies reveal that many societies and educational frameworks around the world still favor competition over cooperation. In this type of learning approach, students are overly concerned with their individual achievements and their place in the grade curve. The emphasis is put on achieving higher grades than everyone else.
Essentially, competition thrives in a win-lose relationship where high-performing learners reap all the benefits and recognition upon evaluation while low-achieving learners reap none. Traditionally, this was thought to be the best form of instruction strategy. In many educational systems, competition learning has been viewed as a stimulant to the growing brain (Gurien, Henley & Trueman, 2001, p. 193).
Proponents of competition learning argue that this strategy enables students to notice achievement through comparing their performance. This assertion validates the existence of the grading system that is immediately done after evaluating the students (Ediger, 2000, p. 12). It suggests that a student who receives the last grade may notice his failures and pull up his socks.
Proponents of competition learning also argue that it encourages teachers to work harder to reduce the gap in student achievement among diverse ethnic backgrounds and socioeconomic levels, not mentioning the fact that this strategy is instrumental in raising the test scores of students (Ediger, 2000, p. 12). Here, competition is perceived as a motivating factor towards optimal achievement in the learning process.
Advocates of this strategy assume that statewide testing and evaluation as well as local and international comparisons among schools and countries need to be made. Typical teaching paradigms comprise of individual students learning effort, differentiated by competitive evaluation to appraise student achievement and develop an evaluation hierarchy based on individual grades (Kolawole, 2007, p. 34).
Voices of criticism regarding the strategy have been heard from many quarters. Educators are concerned that this strategy fails all the other students in evaluation since there is only one winner. In many countries around the world, this strategy has been related to frequent student strikes as it is directly correlated to high anxiety levels and self-doubt especially when the students are sitting for their examinations (Astin, 2000, p. 184).
It is also related to selfishness and aggression among the students. Educational psychologists argue that the technique hinders the student’s capacity to solve problems not mentioning the fact that it promotes cheating. In the light of these disapprovals, it should be the prerogative of teachers to identify the types of competitive activities that are more likely to bring positive outcomes. Accordingly, competitive learning is most suitable when learners need to assess learned material.
In cooperative learning, there exists a positive interdependence between the learning procedure and the overall attainments of goals and objectives set by both the students and teachers. The basic philosophy is that “students…can reach their learning goals if and only if the other students in the learning group also reach their goals” (“Cooperative Learning,” n.d., para. 1).
The success of any particular project that may be used for learning or evaluation purposes is dependent on both individual contribution and the efforts of other students within the group to contribute the required knowledge, expertise and resources. Consequently, cooperation is viewed as a strategy of learning in which learners of diverse levels of ability and knowledge works jointly in small groups to achieve a specific purpose (Kolawole, 2007, p. 34).
Cooperative learning involves utilizing a multiplicity of learning activities to progress the students understanding of a particular subject. Here, learners in a group cooperate with each other, share opinions and information, search for additional information, and present their findings to the entire class (Kolawole, 2007, p. 34). Cooperative learning places special emphasis on the fundamental objective of learning rather than performing to achieve the set goals.
In this perspective, the technique encourages instructors to utilize alternative evaluation procedures, further curtailing the emphasis on competitive evaluations. Cooperation learning is fundamentally different from competition learning in that the latter demands students to work against each other for purposes of accomplishing an objective that only one or a few students can attain (“Cooperative Learning,” n.d., para. 2).
The cooperation concept has many advantages in relation to learning and evaluation of student performance. Educators argue that this technique helps to enhance student accomplishment and retention, not mentioning the fact that it increases self-esteem and intrinsically motivate the students to develop a more positive outlook towards learning and social skills (Kolawole, 2007, p. 34).
These are important achievements in the quest of transforming students to become better performers in educational and social fronts. In competition learning, there exists a negative correlation among goal accomplishments since students are made to believe that they can only achieve their objectives if and only if other students fail in the quest to achieve their objectives (“Cooperative Learning,” para. 2).
This is not good for the education system as it reinforces norm-referenced and criterion-referenced assessment in the achievement of goals. In competition learning, students must either work extremely hard to claim the top positions or fail to put in the needed efforts due to their own perception that they cannot be victorious over their counterparts. Cooperation learning is therefore superior since it brings all students along in the learning experience.
In cooperation learning, the instructors have the capacity to notice within the ongoing classroom activities what the students have learned and what needs to be learned. This is successfully done without the use of standardized evaluation tests or the above mentioned criterion-referenced tests (Ediger, 2000, p. 12).
Still, cooperation learning has the capacity to assist students contextually and chronologically in ongoing study lessons without necessarily having to rely on standardized evaluation tests as is the case with competition learning. It goes against the grain of focusing on self-interest and individual success that are the trademark characteristics of competition learning. What’s more, cooperation technique offers teachers the capacity to work together cooperatively in the quest to develop quality set of goals for students to accomplish.
Some disadvantages have been mentioned regarding cooperation learning. Educators have stressed the need for students to be allowed to learn at their own individual speeds. Some students are also known to take over the whole group at the expense of other students, while quiet students within the group may feel uncomfortable (Middlecamp, 1997).
This means that learning activities may be compromised or biased towards certain students if precautionary measures are not taken. Group dynamics suggest that individuals may not get along in a number of issues. This applies to the learning groups. Finally, some students feel that this technique lacks fairness as lazy students may take advantage of the hardworking students
According to Astin (2000),”human kind would certainly never have attained its place on the evolutionary ladder if it had not evolved through corporative as well as competitive learning” (p. 192). This statement shows the importance of both techniques in learning and evaluation of student achievement.
However, educational needs as well as socio-cultural and technological changes witnessed in the modern world demands specific adjustments in our educational systems if they are to remain relevant in the 21st century. The traditional model of competition learning may have served the needs of the education systems resoundingly well during the formative years.
But presently, corporation learning seems to have ready answers to a multiplicity of issues and challenges facing the education system. Educators need to filter the good outputs of competition learning and mix them with the good outputs of cooperation learning to come up with a hybrid system that will ensure the needs and requirements of education are met in the most comprehensive manner possible.
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Ediger, M. (2000). Competition versus corporation and pupil achievement. College Student Journal, Vol. 34, Issue 1.
Gurien, M., Henley, P., & Trueman, T. (2001). Boys and girls learn differently: A guide for teachers and parents. John Wiley and Sons. ISBN: 9780787953430
Kolawole, E.B. (2007). Effects of competitive and cooperation learning strategies on academic performance of Nigerian students in mathematics. Educational Research and Review, Vol. 2, Issue 1, pp. 33-37. Web.
Madrid, L.D., Canas, M., & Orteha-Medina, M. (2007). Effects of team competition versus team corporation in class wide peer tutoring. Journal of Educational Research, Vol. 100, Issue 3, pp 155-160.
Middlecamp, C. (1997). Students speak out on collaborative learning. Retrieved from <https://wcer.wisc.edu/>