The Right Approach to Motivation in a School Environment

A secondary school administrator once discussed with me his desire to make his final year students to be more committed in the preparation for their external exterminations. When he told me that he announced to the students that any student who failed the forth coming mock examination will be flogged ten painful strokes of the cane during the morning assembly, I identified a knowledge gap. Since the burden he had was on how to motivate his students to study with more commitment, our discussion therefore became expository on the right motivational technique in his situation.

He concurred with my explanation that if the physical and managerial structures are sound in a school with the right quality of teachers and teaching resources, learning would be greatly enhanced. Reward would provide additional drive for increased commitment to academic work by students. Reward in this context would include the achievement of high scores in a fairly assessed examination process, recognition and celebration of success, gifts, awards and ultimately, securing admission into the university. For instance, outstanding students could be decorated with a special badge with motivational inscriptions during morning assembly.

Although he did not share with me his opinion of how sound the learning environment in his school was, he wanted to know the right approach to students who still would not be serious even in optimal learning environments. My response was that such students will likely be few if the reward system is properly implemented over time. However, the ‘rod’ is always available for correction. The ‘rod’ in a school environment includes policy statements that define the benchmark of expected conduct, below which unfavourable consequences are allowed to provide correction. For instance, an average score in the mock exam may be defined as a prerequisite for registration in the external exam. Students who fail the mock exam could be required to forfeit part of their holiday period for extra lessons. My opinion is that one of the reasons why moral decadence is on the increase among children is because the rod is spared, while the whip and the cane allowed. If it is really true that school administrators encourage and enhanced exam malpractice during external examinations, then even a hundred strokes of cane will not achieve any good result.

The planned flogging of students who fail the mock exam is punishment-oriented which is substandard. A skilled and resourceful teacher will be occupied with the variants of professional support he would give his students in their respective areas of need. I learnt in school that punishment is a deterrent and not a motivator. The effect it produces is usually transient and sometimes would barely outlive the physical presence of the teacher or parent. In this context, the students whose knowledge contents are truly deficient may be pushed to explore evil options of achieving the desired scores because they would always be at their wit’s end on how to avoid the painful experience of flogging.

Therefore, to achieve the desired result, the proper approach by the school administrator should have been to first establish an effective, reliable and well supervised service delivery process in the school. A school system that supports, rewards and motivates hard work achieves better results and is preferred to that which just focuses on applying punishment.

-Uchenna N. Nduka

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