Merits of noncompetitive sport debated
By Takayuki Yasui, Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer
Minami Primary School in Koganei, Tokyo held its annual athletic meet Sept. 26―but with one major difference. In the footrace, only runners who finished first, second or third were given rankings. 1.Previously, all students participating in a given race were assigned places.
The new system involved dividing students in the lower grades into groups according to height. Students in higher grades were divided according to running speed, which was checked in advance. After reaching the finish line, only the top three runners stood behind flags marked one to three. The others made two long lines behind flags colored red and white.
Head teacher Eiji Inoue said that as students become older, differences in their running ability become more apparent. "Some students, no matter how hard they try, will never be as fast as others,“ he said. "We paid attention to these children so they don't start hating sports" According to Inoue, some teachers argued that since children develop athletically year to year, they should be given the opportunity to strive for improvement, even though they still might be among the lower rankings.
The abolition of lower-ranked places will hinder students' efforts to improve, the teacher said. However, after lengthy discussion the school decided that only the top three runners would be placed. A fifth-year boy said he was ranked sixth in the footrace last year." I felt upset and lonely," he said. A fifth-year girl who said she was not good at running supported the new system. "Just lining up behind the flag marked with a number six made me feel terrible," she said. At the same time, many students said they did not care about the traditional ranking system. A sixth- year girl said, "Either (system) will do."
2. Among parents, there were arguments for and against the new measure. One mother supported it, saying that abolishing lower rankings was good for students who could not run very fast. "Some students take time to get over (losing)," she said. However, the father of a fourth-year boy opposed the new measure. "When students get out of school, they have to face the real world, where there are winners and losers," he said. "The new measure is too protective, and it could lead to focusing attention only on the top runners. Kishiko Mizutani, the mother of three children at the primary school, also had reservations about the new measure. "Students who are not good at sports can find other fields in which they can show their ability," she said. "In written exams, ranking cannot be avoided, so why do we have to worry about ranking in the footrace?" Responding to these comments, the head teacher conceded that the measure was not a perfect solution. He said he hoped to improve the system after taking the children’s opinions into consideration.
An athletic meet is defined as a special activity provided at schools, under the government's course of study. Because of the definition, neither the Education Ministry nor the Tokyo metropolitan Board of Education instruct schools on how to hold the meet. About 80 percent of 762 schools that responded to a questionnaire on how they conduct athletic meets said they had introduced a system in which students compete in groups based on running speed, according to a survey conducted by an athletic federation of primary school students in 1997. The survey encompassed 1,370 primary schools in Tokyo, of which 86 percent responded.
On the subject of how schools approach differences in athletic ability, about 5 percent answered that race distances were shortened for slower runners. Other schools replaced traditional footraces with relay races. Some schools commented that while paying attention to students who are not good at sports is important, it is also vital to encourage students who are excited about participating in athletic meets.
Other schools said highlighting differences in students' ability should be avoided. Fumitoshi Hosoe, a professor of physical education at Tsukuba University who is involved in drawing up the course of study, said classification based on students' ability in footraces became the norm around 1985. In the 1990s, the number of schools making efforts to eliminate competition from athletic meets, including those that abolished footraces entirely, increased, according to Hosoe. However, he emphasized that learning how to care about other students through competition is the basic philosophy of sport.
The idea of "education geared toward individuals," one of the focal points of the course of study, is misunderstood by some educators and parents, Hosoe said. "I believe it is good for children's growth to experience competition in a natural setting before they enter competitive society," he said. Eliminating competition could deprive them of the pleasure that is the basis of sports, he added. Michiko Yoshinaga, a nonfiction writer, said she was a slow runner when, she was a child, and therefore hated athletic meets. But 3.realizing this was something she could do nothing about, she became determined to compete in other fields, she said.
"Looking back, the footrace was an appropriate way for me to learn to deal with loss," she said. “In the name of ‘equality’ or ’kindness’ recent education does not teach children how to deal with losing. ”Without learning how to get over defeat, children may become vulnerable when they leave school and experience severe competition in society.
"Real kindness and. education involves teaching children how to survive risk rather than protecting them from the risk, I think," Yoshinaga said.
Questions Put into Japanese the underlined parts,1,2 and 3.
Questions Make discussions about the following 6 points.
1. Do you think athletic meets are important for students in elementary, junior high, or senior high schools?
2. Do you think 50m or 100m races are necessary for them in athletic meets?
3. Do you think it necessary that their rankings should be recognized and seen by many others after they finish running?
4. How many places should be given in, for example, a six- member group?
5. How should the teams be formed? Depending on students’ heights, an alphabetical order, or students’ running speed?
6. What do you think about rankings of students' academic levels? Do you agree, for example, with the idea that names of the students who got good academic scores should be given to the class or that students’ seats are decided depending on their scores?