Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

Reward systems are perverse

A common argument for continuing to use grades, awards, competitions, and point systems in schools:

Students will experience extrinsic motivation outside of school, so we help prepare them for this experience by using similar reward systems in schools.


Our monetary system is a reward system. You work, you get rewarded with money, which you can use to purchase goods and services to improve your life. Work harder, smarter, longer, you get more money. The recent attention on the income disparity in the world, and the fact that people will lie, cheat, steal, and murder people for this reward should tell you that there are perverse side effects of our monetary system simply because of its existence.

Every reward system I can think of has unintended negative side effects. While every system has people who play by the rules, all of them similarly have people who have focused too much on the reward and then engaged in immoral acts.

Instead of basing what we do in schools on what is not working in our society, why don’t we look at other alternatives for to motivate our students? If you can think of a system based on motivating participants with a reward that doesn’t have serious problems with internal corruption and cheating, please let me know…