The same zero-sum mentality lies behind the refusal to accept that the standards of education are improving. Every year, we and the other nations have a conversation about whether the improving results in major exams are a sign that tests are getting easier. Few are the voices celebrating the possibility that our teachers and head-teachers are getting even better at their jobs. It’s as if it doesn’t occur to anyone that when it comes to education, everyone can get better at once.
It’s not hard to see where the corrosive zero-sum mindset comes from. Education has become a political punching bag on the national and international stage. As a result, it has absorbed the language and ethos of adversarial politics. Your competitors’ losses are your gains; their failures are your successes. But education is not like politics, and it should not frame its discourse in the same way. Education is not a zero-sum game.
There are plenty of win-win opportunities for improving education and its outcomes.
In a more philosophical context, we have read about ‘life being a zero-sum game’. In that scenario, we are talking about wins and losses: if one wins, then someone else is losing. If you win back from another party, and then you lose the same amount to the first party, it is a zero-sum game for you.
However, when you age, you look at these small transactions and abstract them to a higher level of our lives when we are together. There are happy moments, moments making you rich and moments making you lose money, moments where you lose loved ones, and realise that it will come to you one day. That is the ‘life is a zero-sum game’ for you.
You bring into the world nothing, when you are born; there is nothing that you get to take when you are dead and gone. This qualifies for the famous line, ‘life is a zero-sum game’. The two sides of the equation are balanced.
Let us reiterate and focus, work hard to make learning and education ‘NOT a zero sum game’.