Rewards and Punishment in Schools

Teacher giving a student a high five, a simple example of rewards and punishment in schools, this being a small reward for the student

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Promoting Discipline and Motivation

By Herold Maropola

In current education systems, school rewards and punishment have been used as external motivators to influence student behaviour and academic performance. However, a growing body of research suggests that relying solely on external motivators may hinder the development of intrinsic motivation and a genuine love for learning.

We have to remember that the prevailing worldwide schooling model is a relatively recent experiment.

Understanding internal/intrinsic motivation as an alternative to external motivators (Rewards and Punishment)

Internal motivation, also known as intrinsic motivation, refers to the inherent desire to engage in an activity for its own sake, driven by personal interest, curiosity, and the satisfaction derived from the task itself. Unlike external motivators, which are typically based on rewards or punishment, internal motivation arises from within the individual and is closely linked to a sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

Read more about better ways of motivating and disciplining school children here.

What are Rewards and Punishment in schools? What are some examples of Rewards and Punishment in the classroom?


Rewards, also known as positive reinforcement, involve giving students incentives or privileges for exhibiting desired behaviours or achieving specific goals. These rewards can take various forms, such as praise, recognition, certificates, tokens, or tangible items. The intention is to reinforce positive behaviours and motivate students to continue engaging.


Punishment involves applying negative consequences or withholding privileges to respond to undesirable behaviours or rule violations. Punishment may include verbal reprimands, loss of privileges, detentions, suspensions, or other disciplinary actions. The aim is to discourage unwanted behaviours and promote compliance with established rules and expectations.

To read more about external motivators (Rewards and Punishment) used in schools, click here.

Are rewards and punishment a proper way to foster discipline and motivation? Should one reward students?

While rewards and punishment can provide immediate extrinsic motivation, they are unlikely to foster a genuine internal drive for learning and personal growth. Students may become reliant on external rewards, leading to decreased intrinsic motivation or reduced willingness to engage in tasks without immediate reinforcement. Similarly, punishment may result in compliance driven by fear or avoidance rather than a genuine desire to learn and behave appropriately.

Research suggests that an overemphasis on rewards and punishment can undermine intrinsic motivation, hinder creativity, and diminish long-term engagement in learning. Instead, fostering internal motivation relies on creating an environment that supports autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Promoting student autonomy, providing meaningful and challenging tasks, encouraging self-reflection, offering constructive feedback, and cultivating a supportive and inclusive classroom community can enhance intrinsic motivation and promote long-lasting positive outcomes.

Educators must create a supportive and nurturing learning environment that promotes internal motivation. Strategies such as providing meaningful choices, emphasising personal growth, and fostering a sense of belonging can all develop internal motivation and enhance learners’ self-esteem.

More information about growing the self-esteem of school children can be read here.

Rethinking Rewards and Punishment

Alternatives to Rewards:

Rather than relying solely on extrinsic rewards such as stickers, prizes, or grades, educators can cultivate internal motivation by focusing on the following strategies:

  • Providing Autonomy: Allowing students a say in their learning process empowers them to take ownership of their education. Providing choices in assignments, projects, or study topics can foster a sense of autonomy and intrinsic motivation.
  • Encouraging Mastery: Emphasizing the growth mindset and pursuing mastery promotes a sense of competence and self-improvement. Providing constructive feedback, highlighting progress, and celebrating small achievements can inspire students to seek excellence for its own sake.
  • Creating Meaningful Learning Experiences: Linking the curriculum to real-world applications and personal interests enhances the sense of purpose and relevance in learning. Engaging students in problem-solving, critical thinking, and project-based learning opportunities nurture intrinsic motivation.
Alternatives to Punishment:

Rather than resorting to punitive measures, educators can adopt a more compassionate and growth-oriented approach to address misbehaviour or academic struggles:

  • Promoting Restorative Practices: Fostering a culture of empathy and understanding can help students develop emotional intelligence and conflict resolution skills. Restorative practices focus on repairing the harm caused by misbehaviour rather than punishing the wrongdoer, leading to better outcomes and a sense of personal responsibility.
  • Encouraging Reflection and Self-regulation: Guiding students to reflect on their actions and consequences promotes self-awareness and personal growth. Providing opportunities for students to set goals, monitor their progress, and learn from their mistakes cultivates intrinsic motivation and a sense of accountability.
  • Offering Supportive Interventions: Recognizing that challenging behaviours often stem from unmet needs, educators can provide individualised support and resources to help students overcome obstacles. By addressing underlying issues and providing appropriate guidance, students can develop the relevant skills to succeed academically and socially.

In today’s rapidly evolving world, fostering a love for learning and nurturing students’ internal motivation is imperative. By shifting the focus from external rewards and punishment to strategies that promote autonomy, mastery, and purpose, educators can create an environment where students are driven by their innate curiosity and passion for knowledge. Emphasising intrinsic motivation enhances academic achievement and equips students with essential life skills such as resilience, creativity, and a lifelong love for learning.

Here are some resources that can enhance creativity and love for learning by learners.

At Open Minds Campus, the philosophy is based on self-directed learning. Students are encouraged to become independent life-long learners. Rewards and Punishment are not part of the philosophy. Building a love for learning and intrinsic motivation is the goal.

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