Celebration of collaboration

In the workplace, people have forged references and certificates in a bid to gain employment.

Let us start with a question: what do the following have in common: Ben Johnson, Maradona, Lance Armstrong, Tonya Harding, Hansie Cronje, Thierry Henry? If we answer that they are all sportsmen, we would not be wrong but there is more than that. If we said they were all successful in their chosen sport, again we would not be wrong (even if we cannot name all their sports or their successes) but there is more than that. In short, they all cheated in their desperate attempt to win — some used drugs, some used their hands illegally, some fixed matches, some injured opponents outside of competition but all cheated.

Of course, it is not only at the top level of sports that people have cheated. In the workplace, people have forged references and certificates in a bid to gain employment. They have taken on different identities. They have produced fake results and documents. They tell lies to create a false impression. They take office supplies, claim to be sick, break promises blatantly.

Even in school sports, we have come across schools using the age-old ruse of playing over-age players, of swapping birth certificates, of playing older people, who are not even pupils at the school, of drugs, of diving and appealing to con the referee. Coaches, who referee or umpire their team’s matches can find opportunities to cheat — “just hit them on the pads and I will do the rest”, was a well-known, humorous yet ultimately very sad comment from one coach to his cricket team.

And then at school there has always been that threat of pupils cheating in their homework, class tests or public exams. Pupils use other people’s work; pupils have someone else sit the exam for them; pupils look at other’s answers; pupils show each other hand signals to indicate the correct answers; pupils see papers in advance. And we have not even mentioned plagiarism, using dictionaries, and now ChatGPT (though the latter two would not necessarily be classified as cheating). In short, it is all potentially cheating.

There is another example of cheating though which we perhaps have not considered and it is one that Sir Ken Robinson, the erudite and forward-thinking educationist, once highlighted in his typically humorous way in one of his TED talks. He was talking about the importance of collaboration in the place of education — after all, collaboration is one of the important five Cs of twenty-first learning skills — and he humorously quipped: “In schools it is called cheating!” He meant of course that schools obviously insist that pupils do all their own work and must not share their ideas with others, in tests, homework or exams. That is understandable. Yet the point that he was seeking to make was that schools are also (supposed to be) teaching pupils to be collaborative in their work, to work in groups, to share together their ideas, as that is what will be demanded of them when they enter the workplace. They need to learn to share their ideas, experiences, insights with others - while obviously always giving due credit where credit is due to others. Team sport can teach that greatly.

The clear difference between cheating and collaboration is where the action is not undertaken with a view to gain an advantage over others or to bring personal glory or gain where it is not entirely due; it is so that the result will be for the greater good of all concerned. Collaboration can achieve that; cheating cannot. Collaboration, therefore, should be a celebration, a celebration of people working together for the common good, and in that regard it is a cause for congratulation as well. Cheating, however, is not to be celebrated; it is a sign that by our own means and talents we are not able to achieve as high a level of attainment as others, which in turn reveals a low sense of self-esteem and a total disregard of honour. Let us rather focus on the value and benefits of collaboration — and not bother to find out how those sportspeople mentioned above succeeded.

  • Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.
  • Email: [email protected]
  • website: www.atschisz

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