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Education: Promote Cooperation, not Competition

By Matthieu Ricard on October 19, 2010

Is it not education's first mission to give children the opportunity to actualize what is best in them?

Several studies have shown that young children who are encouraged to cooperate with others in school achieve better academic results and engage more often in ‟pro-social” behavior, in other words, conduct that brings about positive results for others. For instance, an older student might be put in charge to help a younger one with his studies. Research has shown that not only does the one who is being helped make progress in his studies but that the older student also shows considerable improvement in his academic results, even if up to that point he had not been a good student. This observation, which surprised researchers, can be explained by a sense of responsibility felt by the older student; this feeling inspires him to review his lessons from previous years and drives him to put greater effort into his current studies. Thus, when tutoring is given by an elder student, academic results improve not only for the student who is being helped, but even more so for the student who tutors.

During a recent seminar on the psychology of happiness, to which I participated in Brussels, Jacques Lecomte (author of the first global introduction to positive psychology in French) reported that it was found that in a class that practices cooperative learning, students have greater self-esteem, are more motivated to learn, are capable of more complex reasoning, get better grades, show greater respect for the teacher, perceive him or her as more understanding and helpful, and demonstrate more often altruistic behavior; in such a class, a decrease in bullying, violence, and drug addiction was also noted.

For students, a good teacher is someone who not only knows how to teach but who can also demonstrate a set of human qualities (listening, kindness, availability, etc.). Such a teacher is also someone who gives his or her students a sense of responsibility and puts them in a position to help others. In addition, it was discovered that when educators show empathy, students' academic performance greatly improves, whereas interpersonal violence and vandalism decline sharply. (see Learning Together and Alone: Cooperative, Competitive, and Individualistic Learning by David Johnson and Roger Johnson)