September 18, 2013
Educate children, don’t spoil them
Halimah Mohd Said, writing in her column “This N That” (Sun 16 September) has suggested that to solve the problem of dirty and vandalized school toilets, instead of installing CCTV’s, the schools could involve the children in looking after the toilets.
She suggests that classes take turns to spruce up the toilets and this could be done with proper time-tabling and goes on to propose incentives such as a prize for the class that is judged to be the best in this community effort, and stars be given for the runner ups.
I fully agree with the idea that school children should be taught to keep the toilets clean (not merely spruce up) by involving them actively. This should not mean decorating the toilets with flowers and posters, but the actual cleaning of the toilet bowls, urinals, sinks, floor, walls.
However, I totally disagree that there should be any kind of reward for doing this. Once rewards begin to be given, the rewards become the objective and not character development. The job at hand is then done with the heart in the reward and not in the job. And when the rewards stop coming, the job no longer becomes worth doing.
Discontentment can also arise when rewards are given. How is the evaluation done? Is there consistency in the evaluation? Is there favoritism? etc.
Teachers will have to come up with a checklist of things to look for. If one class brings some flowers and puts them in the toilet, will that be given marks? Why? If flowers are used to suppress the smell, how would that be evaluated?
Awarding prizes for something that should be part of our character is an approach that has hidden negative consequences. Children then begin to expect a reward for anything that they do. Without a reward the job is either not done or done with reluctance and of course not properly done.
The worst negative consequence of this method of “motivating” children to do something is to sow the seeds of seeking gratification in adult life, and that means corruption. A reward is not only expected, but is felt to be a right, for doing something. This does not help in creating a society that abhors the giving and taking or “presents” for doing one’s job.
Voluntarism is what we need to sow in our children. They need to be taught to do things without any expectation of any reward. In school it means keeping their own classroom floor clean, the corridor and drains outside their classrooms, flower pots (if any) and the field clear of any bits of paper and food wrappers. It is wrong to proffer prizes and rewards for doing this. Only then would they learn social responsibility.
Adults do not seem to realize the long term negative consequences of giving “rewards” to children to motivate them to do something. This is because it takes many years for the children to grow up and show their character in adult life. Receiving of presents for doing a civic duty becomes a habit that grows with them. Thus the connection between the giving of “rewards” for them to do something during childhood, and their demanding or “rewards” for doing their work in adult life, is lost. Children who grow up in a culture of getting rewards for doing what it is their social responsibility to do, will be corruption prone in adult life.
Being children, they do not understand the concept of “social responsibility”. As such, the adults around them – the parents and teachers have to teach them this by making them do things, like keeping their own classrooms, the school compound and toilets clean. Similarly at home, they should be keeping their rooms clean, they should be made to pick up their toys and keep them neatly, etc. This is the prescriptive approach.
Let us not sow the seeds of corruption through the wrong approach of getting children to do the proper things by “motivating” them with “rewards”. Children on their own do not expect material rewards. Depending on a child’s age, a smile from the parent or teacher can be rewarding and make a child happy. A word of appreciation can motivate a child. A pat on the shoulder, a handshake, a hug is great rewards for children. Even these, if too freely and too frequently given, lose their value.
We spoil children by giving them rewards for doing a civic duty. Prizes should be reserved for things like essay writing competitions, for debates, for winning during the school sports, for excelling in some games.
So let us educate children and not spoil them through our good intentions that lead to the inappropriate actions of unknowingly sowing the seeds of corruption.