Moving Beyond Competition

The Schools for Tomorrow: Building and Sustaining High Quality Education Programs report, otherwise known as the “Provincial Declining Enrollment Study” is an excellent, worthwhile read for anyone interested in education on Prince Edward Island.


In the conclusion to the report, which was prepared by Ascent Strategy Group, comes the following general characterization of the challenges ahead in education:

At the same time, our young people live in an increasingly complex and uncertain social, political, technological and economic environment. It is clear that the future will require a population with the confidence and skills to meet the challenges posed by fast and far reaching change. As Thomas Friedman makes clear in his bestselling book, The World is Flat, students today are not competing with the student sitting next to them in class, or the rival school down the road. Today’s students are competing in a global arena. The ability to source talent and skills across the globe is placing tremendous pressure on students to achieve at high levels so they can produce at those levels as adults.

I think we need to move beyond thinking about what we do in our work as a life-long dog-eat-dog sports match where we’re all “competing in a global arena.” While corporations and their brands might “fight” for market share, nothing that I do in my working life feels remotely like a competition.

Every day I interact with a network of friends, contacts and strangers, contributing to a digital ecosystem and drawing from a digital ecosystem. This morning I fielded a request from someone in Ontario for some of the code that drives, got some help from a friend in Sweden with a CSS issue, and sent some feedback to a product manager at Nokia in Finland.

Now perhaps if all my clients decided to [further] offshore the work I do for them I would feel more like I was in a cage match against my digital brethren in Bangalore, but even in that case the skills I need to keep going are less competing skills than they are adaptation skills.

If we continue to pursue the sporting model of educating for economic development we’ll simply end up with a hyper-driven burnt-out uni-skilled workforce that’s likely more vulnerable to ruin. We need to train for responsible, flexible, adaptive ecosystem participation, and start treating the “global arena” more like a forum for enhanced citizenship than a fight to the death against foreign encroachers.


Marian's picture
Marian on September 11, 2008 - 19:14 Permalink

Perhaps ecosystem has some friendly connotations among digital colleagues that I don’t know about. All I know is, in biology, an ecosystem is where living things eat each other. Another metaphor is probably in order.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on September 11, 2008 - 19:28 Permalink

I suppose I’m speaking of a peaceable ecosystem where everybody eats carrots.

Marian's picture
Marian on September 11, 2008 - 20:40 Permalink

Carrots are not living things? I’m sure some children identify with the carrot role in the ecosystem.

Robert Paterson's picture
Robert Paterson on September 11, 2008 - 21:15 Permalink

I am with you Peter — friends from all over the world help me in my work — which then causes me to think about work itself. If you are selling “stuff” then maybe the dog eat dog rules apply. But what if work increasingly is about how to grow your food better locally, how to develop a local energy system, how to raise our kids better — if we work here, then we all can and should help each other. We can only win that way

Clark's picture
Clark on September 12, 2008 - 01:36 Permalink

Thank you for linking to this report. I think your situation is more idyllic than most. In my experience students (and parents) abroad are far more driven and competitive than what I experienced growing up in PEI.

We are in the later stages of finding an elementary school for our daughter. The entrance requirements for some of the better schools are extremely high. One school required that I (not her) have a Masters degree and at least 5 years experience. Phd preferred. Then she must take an entrance exam.

As she misses the required age for entrance to public school by 2 weeks, she would need to take an entrance exam for ‘gifted children’. This would require daily study for almost a year and then only 10% pass.

Schools that we are considering emphasize academics, academics, and academics. My wife is a director at an International school and they don’t have a gym. It’s a completely different educational culture off-island. I would love to return home, so we recently did a cursory review of Island schools to see how they compare. My first impression is not very positive.

Perhaps the island education system could stand to be more competitive with the programs I have seen abroad while still striving for the idyllic situation that you propose.

Alan's picture
Alan on September 12, 2008 - 14:39 Permalink

Do you see any connection between your recent post “Eastern School District Meeting Report” and this one? If a community is to prosper and grow there has to be some recognition that there are difficult tasks that have to be taken on even as we aspire to ideals and even drone on about them as with those water bottles.

I try to ensure that I expose my kids to competition in and outside school but also that ultimately it is not an end in itself, that you have to see beyond it while being capable within the game to use your analogy. While I happily work in a low stress professional position, I also am aware and see the need to be able to put one’s nose to the grindstone when it is required — if only to ensure there is food on the table.

Don’t you have to teach both?