Why competition is good for performance

{mosimage}April 6, 2009: Even when grossly challenged for time, I create a moment to read Sunny Bindra, my fellow columnist. He has lots to offer. In a recent contribution in The Edge pullout of this publication, he wrote, “…when a position is yours by right, there is no need to win it”.

He went on, “There are no competitors, no pressure to prove your case. For the human animal, where there is no competition there is complacency”.

Much as he was making a point regarding the leadership of family businesses, his observation on competition is cross cutting.

Have you ever realised that we live in a competition-driven world in literally everything we do? Our very politics is about comparative competition.

Whoever wins forms government. Music is competitive. On print and electronic, we rank its popularity through regular sales. That fires innovation and continuous improvement.

The world’s most popular sport, football, is also ranked. We get to know the best player of the year and the highest ranked country on the basis of performance.

That keeps the competitive spirit running and continuously improves the sport for posterity. And did you notice the instant fretting by our ministers the other day when an attempt to rank their ministries was made?

Tourism minister Najib Balala couldn’t believe his ministry’s poor position given that he had just returned from colleting a continental crown on account of his good marketing performance. That pricked him. Provided we do it right, ranking of our ministries will surely improve service delivery.

Skewed aspect

This is why we need to revisit the recent ban on the ranking of schools following release of examination results. Let us first appreciate the skewed aspect of it. The lumping and ranking together of national schools with others countrywide is inappropriate.

The lumping and ranking together of well supported provincial schools along with poorly funded district and harambee schools gives an incorrect public perception.

The comparison of day secondary schools with boarding schools may also raise fundamental questions. But leaving these schools broadly unranked through the years will only beget us deterioration of standards.

Without comparative ranking, why would school heads and subject teachers worry? Why would education officers worry? After all, each will be guaranteed a monthly salary. No public scrutiny, no pressure, no censure and hence no worry.

Tell me, why shouldn’t we rank  national schools together so that Maseno can work harder to outperform Mang’u and sing that out loudly to the world? In return, that will keep the Mang’u students and teachers on their toes. Indeed, we could decide to rank the private schools in the very competitive metropolises like Nairobi and Mombasa separately.

Why do we want to kill competition in there? Can any teacher imagine taking students through a year of learning and not make an attempt to rank and reward the good ones while also carefully encouraging the weak ones?

The irregularities by some schools shouldn’t form the basis for phasing out school ranking. Regular school inspection methods should be devised to handle that.  

Ranking in all sectors is literally second nature worldwide; you rank, you compel improvement, you don’t, you encourage complacency, mediocrity and business-as-usual outputs.

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