September 14th, 2016 | Competitiveness


Where does the word competitiveness come from?

Where does the competitiveness come from? It is not a very prominent feature of Dutch society –  this society is more about equity and cooperation. No wonder: once you look at the educational program at the Dutch primary schools, the first class they ever have is ‘working in teams. This is very much in opposition to Polish schools where they were always telling us to compete. I can spot at least a few strategies in the Polish educational system that prompt people to compete against each other:

Strategy [1]

In the physical education class, where there was almost no free game playing, but a lot of contests and tournaments instead. Almost every class was planned the same way: we were randomly assigned to two groups, and we had a relay race or so. The winning team was getting a better grade than the losers. Or, we were evaluated for every activity, even when we were just playing volleyball or having a warmup – every single performance was monitored and scored. And this was the case from the very beginning; since I went to school at the age of 6.

Strategies [2]

In primary schools and high schools, the teacher usually announces the results of a test by calling students to pick up their work in front of the class, and the tests are handed in ascending order: the good grades go last. This means that if you are a very good student but your name was called relatively early on in the process, the whole classroom knows that you failed, and if they don’t really like you, they can boo you openly. Happened to me a few times. Picking up the test from the teacher’s desk was way more stressful for me than actually going through the test.

Strategy [3]

Apart from the regular grades for performance in the courses, there is one special grade in the Polish school system, for ‘good behaviour’, or ‘integrity’. Both your leading teacher and your classmates vote for your grade, and students vote in anonymous voting. This is a great chance to kick a student you don’t like for the bear fact that they are a better student than you. I was always getting a very good score from all the teachers, and a so-so score from my classmates for a broad range of invalid reasons. This can be stressful to a little kid… We used to read these comments together with my teachers and laugh at them together. 

Strategies [4]

There is pretty much no working in groups throughout primary – and high school. This strongly promotes an individualistic and competitive attitude in the students.

Strategy [5]

a grading system for studies is different in Poland than in the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, once you collect 90% of the points on the exam, you get a 9.0 grade. If you collect 60% points, you get a 6.0 grade. If everyone got 90% of the points, everyone gets 9.0. This would not be the case in Poland, since there, the exams – especially in natural sciences – are very difficult, and usually, all or most of the students collect less than half of the possible points. Then, the leader of the course creates a distribution of scores post factum and sorts out what your grade is based on your place in that distribution. It is never the case that no one gets a good score, even if the mean score is 10/100 (which is often the case in mathematics) but it is also never the case that everyone passes, and it is usually the case that 10-30% lowest scores get sorted out as a failure. 


The bottom line is: if you want to pass, you need to be better than others, and in particular: better than your friends. There is no winning strategy there, of course, but you can optimize your chances of passing by flocking around a few particularly good students and preparing for the exam in a group. I guess I acquired this habit during my studies, and I keep on doing the same thing right now: trying to find people who are better than me and hang out with them.

Anyways, wouldn’t you be competitive if you were grown up like this?

Please cite as:

Bielczyk, N. (2016, September 14th). Competitiveness? Retrieved from

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