Friday, 25 July 2008

Should good grades be rewarded with cash?

People achieve great things with the right incentives. Children may be able to improve their 'D' grade average to a 'B' or even an 'A' given the right encouragement. Cash incentives can work very well, but there cash for grades has its dangers.

During the 1960s Walter Mischel conducted his famous Marshmallow Experiment. Four year old children were each given a marshmallow. Those that could wait the twenty minutes to eat the marshmallow were given the promised second marshmallow. Some of the children could not wait.

The progress of these children was followed through adolescence. Those with the ability to wait twenty minutes (at the age of four) achieved better long term results than felt compelled to eat the marshmallow right away.

The ability to understand the concept of deferred gratification is what is required for children - and people in general - to achieve success. A colleague completed an accountancy degree, but did not go on to do articles (towards a CA) because of the low starting salary of an articled clerk. With the accounting degree he could start on three times the clerk's salary. Ten years later the picture is very different!

While cash for grades may provide a short-term incentive to work harder, the net effect is to reinforce the expectation of instant gratification against deferred gratification. It may help them to achieve good grades in the short term, but provides a poor life example. Children this rewarded are less likely to achieve a long term view that will provide them with a more secure future. Their orientation is likely to be grounded very much in the short term.

Children that are under-achieving at school could benefit from cash for grades. As they lack a long term view, the cash can provide a real incentive to work and to achieve. There could be a steady improvement in their grades over the years. Getting into the working habit has its own benefits. Achieving better grades has a spin-off effect of improving self-esteem.

Implementing a cash for grades scheme should be approached incrementally and with caution. Begin with a short term reward basis - e.g. per month or semester - gradually increasing the period to a year before the next cash incentive. This could help the child to achieve a more long term view.

But what happens when the cash runs out? Are we back to square one? Are the higher grades that gained them admission to a college enough? Will the young adult now be able to perform in an academic environment without frequent rewards? These are some of the questions that must be asked before embarking on such a scheme.

Rather than paying for results, parents should be assisting the child in achieving a long term view. They need to play a supportive role and discuss issues with their children. If the parents provide a stimulating environment and are working towards goals the children will probably follow. Example is the best way to lead.

Providing cash for grades may work in the short term, but it may sabotage children's ability to understand and cope with the concept of deferred gratification. The idea that better rewards can be achieved by waiting. Skills that are central to achieving success in life.

No comments: