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Grades are not so important as to cause your child to be afraid to show his report book to you.
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Should Rewards Be Given for Good Grades?
Aug 1996 Alan S.L. Wong
Updated on Nov 1997; Apr 2012

Should Rewards Be Given for Good Grades?

In competitive Singapore, we parents see good grades as a passport to a top secondary school and then to a tertiary institution and finally to secure a good job. Young children cannot follow our rationale and so many parents offer tangible and immediate rewards as an incentive to work hard for good grades. Should rewards be given for good grades?

According to a recent survey of 4,500 primary and secondary school students, 80 - 90% of them preferred cash to other forms of rewards for doing well in school. Associate professor Agnes Chang and Dr Ang Wai Hoong (from the National Institute of Education) have been quoted to say that the findings are disturbing. They also said that the results are reflective of our societal values in Singapore (Page 3, The Straits Times, November 25, 1997).

One problem with tangible rewards is that they grow with the child. In Primary 1, a toy car will suffice as a reward; in Primary 2, it is a remote-controlled car; soon it will be a motorbike and then a car. The rewards need to get bigger and better to be attractive. The more important issue is "Do we want our children to work hard just to get a reward?" What about the joy of learning? Isn't learning its own reward?

How Important Are Grades?

One day, our elder boy came back from school and told us that his friend cried. "Why did he cry?" I asked. "He got 99/100 for his test." For the past three years, this boy had been scoring 100% for every test!

How important are grades? Not important enough to cause your child undue stress from fear of not achieving your expectations. Worse, it may cause him to give up trying altogether as we do not seem to be satisfied ... "If you try a little harder, I'm sure you can get a better grade." Grades are not so important as to cause your child to be afraid to show his report book to you.

While it is true that grades are a reflection of the understanding of the subject matter, it is important to remember that there are other factors that determine the actual grades obtained. We are often exasperated when our children are careless in their exams ....... their mathematical workings are correct but the transfer of the answer is wrong. You told them to check their answers and they checked the same way that they worked and arrived at the same answers! Exam-taking strategies also play a part in determining grades.

It is true that good grades can give a child a sense of well-being. But are grades or performance a strong foundation for self-esteem? As your child moves up from lower to upper primaries, it is harder for him to maintain the same level of grades. What will happen to his self-esteem? Nevertheless, it is important for our children to work hard to gain mastery of the basics. A strong foundation is essential as your child moves up to upper primary and onto more difficult concepts.

Good Grades vs Hard Work

Rewards for good grades are rewards for outcomes and may be motivators in a bad way. For example, a child may achieve good grades as a result of cheating in the examinations. Rewards for outcomes do not put a value on behaviour(s) that achieves the outcomes. A reward that acknowledges hard work is better than a reward for good grades.

Is hard work more important than good grades? True, good grades (or performance) may be a reflection of the hard work put in but which one is more important?

Prov. 10:4 says, "Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, but the hand of the diligent makes rich." (c.f. Prov. 24:30-34). The Bible places a premium on hard work. If hard work is more important, shouldn't we reward our children for working hard irrespective of their actual accomplishments in the exam? If we give rewards based on performance (and most parents do), what is the value system communicated?

In 2 Tim. 1:9, the Bible says, " ... [God] who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity ..." (c.f. Rom. 5:8). God loves us unconditionally. Sure, we would feel disappointed whenever our children make silly mistakes in the exam but children need to feel a love that is not pegged to their performance ... an unconditional love modelled by our Heavenly Father.

Another virtue that we would like to cultivate in our children is a trust in God. Prov. 21:31 says, "The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but victory belongs to the LORD." Pray with your children the night before (or the day of) their exam and remind them to talk to God before they begin their exam.