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December 06, 2021

Should we pay children to excel in school?

The Toronto District School Board is looking at whether paying children for getting good grades could be an effective motivational strategy, the Canadian Press reports.
School Chris Spence, the board's director of education, started an online discussion about the idea recently, asking whether taxpayers should pay kids in more disadvantaged communities to do well in school.

It’s not about bribing students but about helping those who have very limited resources to focus on school, he says. Similar "money for marks" programs in the U.S. have seen limited results, however. 

Researchers at Harvard University conducted a study on student incentives at several urban schools. They found that student performance improved in Washington and Dallas, where second-graders were paid $2 for each book they read. However, students in New York didn't score any better on tests despite a $50 incentive to do so.

Closer to home, a group of first and second-year university students who were receiving financial aid at the University of Toronto were given a chance to make some money for keeping their academic grades above 70 per cent.

For each course taken, participants were given $100 for having an average of 70 percent, and then an additional $20 for each percentage point above 70 percent. Before the research began, most subjects said they believed the program would be a good incentive for raising their grades.

Although the incentive study turned out to be quite popular with students and both sign-up rates and participation were high, the final results reveal that the money created just a modest boost in academic achievement, and resulted in very few positive effects for the following year, once the incentive was lifted.

The debate continues, however. Supporters believe that paying students periodically will make the rewards of effective schooling more tangible, and will guide them down the right path. But others feel the payouts amount to little more than bribes, undermining kids' motivation to do high-quality work when they're not being paid.

Does paying for marks make sense? Should such efforts be funded privately through corporate or philanthropic donors rather than the public purse?

By Gordon Powers, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...