Don’t misuse awards

THE UPSR results this year were announced a bit differently. For one, their publication was prohibited.

On top of that, awarding students for achieving outstanding results was not encouraged. Whatever the reason for this, it certainly would seem quaint to most parents.

To motivate their children to score good grades, many parents would offer promises of rewards. To them, it’s the natural thing to do.

A lot of Chinese primary schools also have a tradition of presenting excellent students with awards, mainly contributed by the parent-teachers’ associations and other well-wishers.

Many would consider such a presentation as just reward for the outstanding achievers while also serving to motivate the lesser achievers to strive harder. So why the objection?

Rewards have the power to motivate, prompt, induce and reinforce. It’s an very common stimulus in education.

But if improperly used, the practice could produce the reverse effect. Children might mistakenly regard learning merely as a ‘means’ and the reward as an ‘objective.’ Such an attitude breeds a culture of entitlement. It’s akin to putting the cart before the horse.

Of course, it can also be argued so long as students obtain good grades that meet the criteria for rewards, why be pedantic whether it’s a ‘means’ or an ‘objective?’

Is there any difference? Indeed, there is.

When rewards become the main motivation to stimulate learning, the focus will fall on the pursuit of rewards, causing the learning process to lose its value and significance and no longer matter eventually.

Learning becomes a chore when it feels meaningless or lacking in intrinsic motivation. Consider the act of hanging a carrot in front of a donkey. When the carrot becomes the donkey’s sole reason for completing a journey, it will inevitably take its eyes off the surrounding scenery. As a result, its journey will become nothing but a series of endless and meaningless repetitions.

Education is a process that helps children to discover themselves and realise the values of their lives. If they only focus on grades and rewards and are fixated with learning just for the sake of the “carrots” and should things go awry during an exam, then in one moment, they could lose all the ‘carrots’ – which, to them, is possibly like losing all their goals.

They will have wasted all the time they put into reflecting on their values and motivations. And with all that gone, what will they have to live for?

This probably explains why students who took their own lives, were mostly good graders and not short of rewards for their academic ability.

Conversely, ask yourself this – is it very common to find students who scored bad grades all their lives, succumbing to utter frustration and dejection by committing suicide?

Although it feels good to score high grades, the hard work put in should not be overlooked. Each child is endowed with different gifts. And while we tend to only look at excellent outcomes, so do we also tend to neglect looking at the hours of hard work put into achieving those outcomes.

Many schools reward teachers as well for producing students with good grades. Recognising the efforts of these teachers is commendable but then again, are we only able to see the hard work put in by the teachers when good grades are achieved by the students?

Will not this also cause the teachers to become overly results-oriented and non-chalant in fostering the real essence of learning and education?

The crux of the matter is how can we present rewards and incentives without giving rise to counter-productive consequences? This is, indeed, something to think about.

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