On the surface, the growing number of reward schemes being introduced into educational establishments may seem somewhat trivial. While you may be tempted to ask if students will start receiving medals simply for showing up, these schemes are intended to improve the entire educational ecosystem – from pre-school to university, and not just for students, but for teachers and parents as well.
With a well-designed reward system, academic performance and attendance are improved, extra-curricular activities are encouraged, positive behavior is championed, parental engagement is invigorated, student/teacher relations are improved, financial literacy is enhanced and community cohesion is revitalized.
There are concerns that external motivators such as reward schemes may be effective and well-intentioned, but ultimately work against the continued development of a child’s intrinsic motivation. In other words, rather than participating in school for the sheer pleasure of learning, they only do so for rewards. We can all agree that promoting positive and appropriate behavior among students in class is a good thing, but not all students have the same motivational drives. Some are motivated by praise, some by the challenge of the work, some by the pleasure of accomplishing something, some just for the love of learning. If that’s not enough, rewarding students without also rewarding their teachers and parents can fail.
The reality is that many students would benefit from more conventional rewards to encourage appropriate behavior, but all players must work together to create a mutually beneficial system.
Rewarding All Stakeholders
Effective reward schemes need a widened scope that includes teachers and parents in order to generate a village mentality and a stronger educational ecosystem community.
Educational reward schemes can be used to reward students for completed projects and homework assignments both in groups and individually. The rewards themselves do not necessarily offer cash incentives; instead, care must be taken to design appropriate rewards for each party – student, teacher, and parent – that matches desires, roles, and interests. These could be in the form of movie tickets, reductions in the cost of school supplies, electronic gadgets, prepaid college tuition, pre-loaded financial products, sporting goods, gift cards from merchant partners, etc.
The rewards must be relevant hooks that entice people to participate. While students can be rewarded for good practice, grades and attendance, parents can also earn for actively participating in their child’s school life. Likewise, teachers can be rewarded for participating in extra training, class performance, length of stay, etc.
For these schemes to work effectively, it is vital to cover the complete educational journey – from pre-school to university. The idea is to offer a consistent and ongoing reward scheme that becomes second nature to the student and builds up over years. Consequently, the rewards offered need to step up as the child matures. For example, a young child may be happy with modest rewards, but by the time they reach university, rewards need to match their broadened aspirations.
Given that sophisticated reward schemes are expensive to implement and operate, there is a need to include other parties in the loop who could also benefit from inclusion and assist in the all-important funding. In this regard, financial institutions and local retailers are ideally placed to partner in such reward schemes by offering valuable educational programs and cost-reduced purchases. They also can take advantage of multiple marketing opportunities to promote their products. As students learn about financial products, they can earn rewards, and then spend those rewards with retail partners in the form of reductions and preferential rates.
Motivating students to learn is part of the challenge that instructors face. Fortunately, under a rewards-based system, students tend to show higher interest and increased participation in everyday classroom duties and responsibilities.
Under a well-designed scheme, students receive tangible rewards and reinforcement at frequent intervals, thus maintaining their motivation. Such programs can also be used to encourage long-term effort and accountability. For instance, a student failing an assignment could be disqualified and made to forfeit rewards earned in that subject; meanwhile, holding back a portion of a student’s reward money until after graduation may keep them focused on the bigger picture.
Pilot reward schemes have begun across the country. Some have been at school level or with a subset of students within a school; others have tried the schemes at a county or even state level. However, going forward, if the entire educational journey of students is to be covered, there is a need to consider how these schemes can operate nationwide. The most successful schemes have been those that incorporate both financial institutions and local merchants, creating a more inclusive and credible scheme where all parties win.
Successful students are happy students, and in order to have a classroom of happy students, reward schemes that cover parents and teachers, as well as students, show the greatest promise. It is vital to encourage students to be productive at home and in school. Rewards can create a feeling of pride and achievement among students thus motivating them to be more productive.