Rewards don’t improve school attendance

According to a large-scale study of secondary school students in California, USA, awards for good school attendance seem to make no significant difference. In fact, in some circumstances, it could actually make absenteeism worse.


Researches found that if prizes were promised in advance, it made no difference to whether students attended school. If the rewards were retrospective, in recognition of high levels of attendance, it seemed to have a negative impact on the winners’ future school attendance. Researchers attributed this to the fact that the awards seemed to send “unintended messages” which could have a “demotivating” effect.


Students winning awards could get the “inadvertent signal” that their attendance had been much higher than expected and they could take a more relaxed approach in the future. There is also strong social pressure among teenagers to conform and such prizes could make unusually high attendance seem to be outside the norm for their peer group, leading them to “adapt their behaviour” and purposely miss a few days of school in the future.


The research on the outcome of such awards in schools are useful as it highlights the “implications for when and how awards should be used to motivate desirable behaviours, and when they may backfire”.


In my opinion, the carrot approach should always be used with caution. Like the two sides to every coin, it always presents a different perspective to every one. Some may appreciate it while others view it negatively. For me, I always try to appeal to the students’ sense of responsibility and maturity.

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