In many schools nowadays competition amongst children is used as a tool and incentive in learning, whether this be who can get the highest test scores, who will win an award, or who can finish an exercise first.
Competition promotes the idea that finishing first or winning against others is more important then truly understanding and processing concepts, and internally building these processes and concepts into the development of each child as an individual. Children may be unfairly forced into competition with their peers who may be more gifted in certain areas, while their own strengths are not recognised or included in the grading system. In a competitive learning setting children will feel the need to prove they are adequate only relative to others, which takes away from building their own sense of independence and self-esteem.
Dr. Montessori observed that competition was not an effective tool to motivate learners, and that children will learn because they are interested and love learning, not because they will get the best mark in their class. At a Montessori school the Guide will allow competition to develop naturally without interference (unless necessary) as it is a natural component of a child’s development and integral part of human nature, but it will be voluntary and not forced upon them.
Students in Montessori follow their own blueprint, working out who they are as independent beings, and becoming what/who they are meant to be. They are free to follow their “essence” – their true nature. They compete with themselves, not their peers, and are encouraged to meet and exceed expectations they have of themselves. Children are less afraid to make mistakes when working independently without competition, and will learn that they can try again without embarrassment or judgement if they don’t get it right the first time.
Montessori is about loving the process of learning, not the outcome of being a winner. Children are encouraged to do and be their “best selves”, and will contribute to society positively and independently as a result of this learning. Children are not judged – they are nurtured and gain internal satisfaction from what they achieve, as opposed to working for outside praise or rewards. Collaboration instead of competition is encouraged. The sense of improving their personal best pushes children forward, not the fact that someone else has to fail in order to succeed, as for every ‘winner’ there is also a ‘loser’.
Competition can be facilitated when already present in a Montessori learning environment but in a way that it is guided through intrinsic motivation and without the artificial motivation tools of judgement or prizes. The focus should be on taking part rather then an outcome, and the development of personal discipline, learning, self-assessment and collaboration.