Why One Teacher Believes Rewards and Prizes Don’t Work

In recent years, the debate around rewards and prizes in the educational setting has attracted significant attention. Proponents argue that these incentives offer powerful motivation for students to excel in their studies, while others contend that it promotes unhealthy competition and detracts from the true purpose of learning. One teacher, who has seen the shortcomings of this system firsthand, makes a compelling case against relying on rewards and prizes to motivate students in the classroom.

To begin with, using rewards as motivators often leads to a focus on short-term goals instead of the broader educational experience. Students may become preoccupied with earning a prize or recognition, losing sight of the larger objective: namely, academic growth. Indeed, when the primary target is to achieve good grades to win an award or gain favor, students might resort to memorizing facts without actually understanding the underlying concepts. This can result in superficial learning outcomes.

Another issue concerns extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation refers to seeking external rewards or avoiding negative consequences, such as tangible incentives like prizes or fear of punishment. In contrast, intrinsic motivation involves engaging in activities purely for personal interest or inherent satisfaction. Research consistently demonstrates that intrinsic motivation fosters higher levels of creativity, autonomy, and long-lasting engagement in learning activities. When students are driven by external factors like rewards and prizes, their intrinsic motivation may diminish; this can consequently hamper their desire to learn for learning’s sake.

Furthermore, the use of rewards and prizes fosters a competitive environment that can be detrimental to collaborative learning. Students may become more focused on outperforming their peers than joining forces to work together on complex problems or projects. In addition, students who fail to win awards or recognition might feel discouraged or marginalized, affecting their self-esteem and overall emotional well-being.

Another pitfall is that rewards disproportionately benefit students who already excel in academics while failing to address the needs of struggling students who might require additional support. The focus on a meritocratic system may exacerbate the divide between high-achieving learners and those who have difficulty excelling in conventional classroom settings.

Lastly, relying on rewards and prizes compromises autonomy, which research supports as a crucial factor in fostering motivation. When students are compelled to perform well for rewards rather than personal satisfaction or growth, educators diminish opportunities for self-directed learning. Students should be encouraged to take responsibility for their educational journey, a critical preparation for success in future academic pursuits and life beyond the classroom.

In conclusion, this teacher’s perspective on rewards and prizes highlights their potential drawbacks in the educational setting. Instead of promoting superficial short-term success, fostering competition, and discouraging autonomy, educators should aim to cultivate a love of learning that lasts long after the prizes have been handed out.