I’m not a fan of grades and merits in schools. It’s a turnaround for me because I used to judge myself via grades and exam scores. I now realise that it wasn’t a healthy mindset; extrinsic rewards (which also translated to me ‘rewarding’ or ‘consoling’ myself with food, something that also hasn’t helped me in life) didn’t make me happy or fulfilled in the long-term.
My daughters used to attend a Montessori nursery. I’d first read about Montessori before I even had a child and believe in the principle of her education philosophy. Montessori education is child-led and has no grades, exams or homework. This was my ideal education, but finances dictated differently. Although home education currently isn’t an option, the local state primary is lovely. It has so much of the best parts of the education I believe in.
It also subscribes to the mainstream view on rewards. Earlier this year they introduced a merit system where the children are given merits and get a certificate for every 25 merits received. I’m sure there are agreed principles behind the awarding of merits, but… Well, there are two things I want to rant about.
Firstly, MG was mildly constipated earlier in the year and gained a slight fear of the toilet. It was short-lived; we encouraged and supported her, trying to reduce her fear that it would hurt. We let the school know so they could support her too if needed. She managed to use the toilet to relieve herself at school. And was given a merit. The next night, she refused to go to the toilet reasoning that if she saved it for school, she’d get another merit…
Secondly, merit systems appear to be fundamentally unfair to well-behaved and quiet children. How do you explain to your child why her classmate, whose name has come up several times as one who has bitten other children and is often rude or disruptive, has more merits than her? What do you say when your child feels she has less worth compared to other classmates based on the number of merits each has?
I used to work for an organisation that funded post-16 education in England and Wales (a now defunct Quango) and included in that funding were projects to help disadvantaged children into education and training. Projects where children and young people who skipped lessons and training were incentivised with rewards but their hard-working classmates from similar backgrounds were ignored.
I am supposed to see that this is a good thing because it gets the children and young people who miss education and training back on track. I do think that the result is a good thing, if it works. I still can’t see how being inherently unfair to hard-working children and young people from equally deprived backgrounds is fair.
For children, primary aged children particularly, I wish we could move away from the ideas of grading and cajoling young lives into a box that (certain) adults have prescribed for them. We’re here to guide and nurture them. I want a better world for my children, I want them to make a better world. Am I really so odd for wanting this? Do we really want our children to suffer unfairness because we had to, so they’d better get used to it?
It seems to me that these merit systems and incentives are more likely to encourage people to give up being hard-working and considerate because what’s the point if you’re effectively just going to be punished for it? I’d love to hear your views on the subject too, please add your thoughts below.