Another study showing the trouble with extrinsic motivation in the study mentioned in this NPR-article, as the title should have been “how do you motivate kids to skip school”.
About the study:
The study, a working paper released by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, looked at 799 boys and girls. The kids, mostly age 9, were students in several dozen single-classroom schools run by the nonprofit Gyan Shala in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the city of Ahmedabad.
The idea was to try a reward to make the pupils come more to school. The results were astonishing… bad when they looked a period after the reward program was finished:
- Kids whose attendance rate was highest in the class before the reward program. They reverted to their baseline level.
- Kids whose attendance rate was lowest but managed to up their attendance enough to win the prize. After the program was over, these kids also reverted to their lower baseline level.
- Kids whose attendance rate was lowest to start off with and who did not improve enough to qualify for the reward. In other words, they failed the challenge. More than 60 percent of the lowest attenders fell into this category. For them, the aftermath was grim. They were now only about one-fourth as likely to show up for class as they had been before the reward scheme was introduced.
Actually, the lead-researcher now says:
“I almost felt badly about what we had done. That in the end, we should not have done this reward program at all.”
A note by me to add to this story: actually, this study does raise some important ethical issues about doing educational research. How well intended this approach could have been, it has made things pretty worse for a whole lot of pupils in real life. And it’s not that the insight of this study is pretty new. We’ve been here before (over and over again). I’m much in favor of doing research and also research outside an experimental setting (like often done in cognitive research) because education is part of a complex system. But the price in real life, can’t be this high, imho.