Researcher Proposes For Schools To Scrap Academic Awards

An education researcher holds the view that rewarding academic achievements in schools creates barriers. Her PhD study has found that creating ranking systems in schools does not benefit the vast majority of learners.



Education researcher Shakira Akabor says that the system of rewarding learners using badges, accolades, awards, and ranking systems can be exclusionary.

Akabor, who is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Unisa, says that the system does not work for inclusive education and notes that it is not practised in some of the more developed education systems around the world.

She draws comparisons between South Africa's schooling system and that of  Finland and Germany's educational systems, which are considered as being some of the best educational systems in the world. 

Akabor's PhD research has found that academic achievement awards create barriers to inclusive education. She says her study, which primarily focuses on scholastic achievements, looked at how this reward system had an effect on the learning of all pupils in the classroom.

What I found in my study is that this makes a lot of people very unhappy, not only people who don't win awards or who missed the criteria by a few points, but also those who do win awards.

She adds that 66% of the learners who were respondents in her study were award-winners themselves and they had many concerns and issues.

Her respondents stated that awards do not truly reflect their abilities and that some of them would often miss the award criteria by a few percentage points even though they knew that they were as capable as their award-winning counter-parts

Akabor, adds that there were some of them who felt that the system is rigged since the learners would win every year despite their efforts to compete.

Additionally, some of her respondents felt that the system caused them so much anxiety and stress that they had to sacrifice their social lives in order to meet the award criteria.

Akabor also points out that part of the underlying issue is that learners are motivated by different reasons to strive for academic excellence.

She adds that there are some learners who are motivated internally, purely by the love of their work while there are those who are motivated by external rewards, such as badges, pins and trophies. Academic rewards only benefit learners who are motivated by extrinsic factors according to Akabor.

What about the learners that are internally motivated, what about the learners that are self-motivated? Do they not deserve recognition?

She says that although the system works for some pupils, It does not benefit the vast majority of learners and thus it should be replaced by a system through which learners, are taught to learn for the love of learning. 

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