Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Incentives, incentives and incentives! What are they for?

“If people expect an incentive to complete a task, it means, deep down they are not doing it for the love of the task but for the thought of earning an incentive, which is more lovable than the task.”

Lets sum it up in my own typical way.

Parents to their son: Son, if you get 80% this year in your final exams, we are going to gift you with what you were asking - a cycle.

How often did you hear or see this? This is pretty common. Right? It is just a common thought process - a trend - that an incentive for getting higher marks would encourage children to study better. It seems to be time-tested and a proven technique across the world. The gift keeps changing based on the importance of the test (exam) and life-stage of the kid. But the trend remains the same.

But let us look at this scenario in a different way...

Parents are giving an incentive for something that their son is expected to be doing - taking an exam here. But, mind you, if the child is interested in studies and passionate about it, he’ll be more interested in getting good grades than the cycle. The teachers are giving the incentive that the kid rightly deserves for his academic performance. Then, what is this cycle for and what is this announcement of a gift before the exams actually start? A bribe? Or is this a give-away to your child and yourself that the kid is more interested in owning a cycle than doing well in the exams?

To me, this is an acceptance by the parents that possessing a cycle is more important to the kid than getting good marks. And this interest should influence the kid to study well. But for what? The kid would long forget the actual end of education as this trend continues. Ultimately, what did the parents achieve?

Being mature adults, parents should know what they are achieving by this method. This is a transaction - a business deal. “You get what you want if you give me what I want”. Is this what you want your kid to learn?

Is there a direction or approach that parents can take that will influence kids in enjoying their studies - an approach that will push kids to naturally love their studies and not for some incentive? I think there is. Make kids understand the beauty and the real reason of education. The approach changes from kid to kid.

There are a lot of things but try this for the incentive you want to give: If you really want to gift a cycle for your kid’s good performance, do so, but silently after he did well in the exams. No hint or announcement of the purchase till you actually gift it. Create an environment that will influence the kid in thinking that he/she made their parents happy and in return they are showing their love in the form of a gift. Never promise anything. Be consistent with your approach. Create a benchmark through your deeds that he may get a gift if he raises over a certain standard. This, in all probability encourages the kid to keep up the good work the right way.

Note to parents: Nobody can stop you from buying a cycle or any gift to your kid. But do so, if you are genuinely pleased by your kid’s actions and not for an action you ask him that would please you.

General note: I’ve taken “academic interest” for this article as this is the commonest area where we can see this trend across the world.