Recognizing the Individual Student

January 28, 2011 by Rabbi Michoel Gourarie
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Next week in Australia thousands of boys and girls will begin the new school year. As parents, teachers and educators it is a good time to reflect on the goals of education and the values that we want our children to absorb in the school experience.

Rabbi Michol Gourarie photo: Henry Benjamin

In the world of education tremendous progress has been achieved in the last few decades. We have learned to praise and give positive reinforcement. We have differentiation strategies and techniques accommodating the diversity of learning abilities and styles. We now talk of teaching children and not subjects.

But school is still a fiercely competitive environment, where being the best is called achievement. After all the progress we still seem to convey a message to our students that success and excellence is measured by comparison. You are only really good if you are better than someone else.

The time when this message is most amplified is at end of year events such as speech night or prize giving ceremonies. Year after year thousands of decent, hardworking students are forced to sit through a long event watching prizes or certificates being given only to those that came top, have achieved the highest grades or have improved the most.

Why should a student who worked hard, but only had the ability to achieve 5% less than his/her fellow student not be recognized?
Why should a boy or girl who is punctual , finishes all class and home assignments and is always on task not be given an award?
Why should a weak student who put in effort to improve and achieved good progress but not as dramatic as others not be praised?

In Judaism, we are taught that success means to compete with yourself not with others. G-d’s view on this is clear. When the Torah discusses the reward for Torah study it states that reward will be given to those who put in effort and go beyond their comfort zone. How you compare to others is irrelevant.

Now, at the beginning of the school year, it’s time to rethink our educational vision and develop a system that values the individual for their own abilities. We need to reward direction not perfection, effort not outcome and individual progress and not winning by comparison.

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