Better Student Performance Wanted: Using the 4th Principle of Economics in Pedagogogy

In Berlin, as in many other places, money is the thing that makes a lot of things possible. It is basically the fundament of pretty much every economic activity. We invest money into new buildings, pay a bunch of it so we can have the bust of Nefertiti in our historical museum, and to open a Karl Lagerfeld store in the city center.

What some people may or may not have known is that a particular idea in economics can be used to encourage elementary, high school and college prep students to work harder for better grades!

This idea is based on (Mankiw’s) fourth principle of economics that states: “People respond to incentives.” At this point I should say thank you to my economics Professor from last year for teaching me!

I have seen this strategy put in practice for the first time when I was about in grade two and three.

Every time a student got a “1” (“A” in the American grading system) on a dictation in German class, he or she got a note from the teacher with the confirmation of the grade and a stamp from the school. With this note, the ace students went to the doner kebab stand near the school in the Muslim district called Wedding (nothing to do with the English meaning of the word) and by showing that pink slip, they got a doner for FREE.

In this case students were encouraged to score higher grades so that they can get a free lunch. The free lunch was the incentive in this case. Teachers, parents and students were satisfied with the grades, the rather poor kids got something to eat and the owner of the doner stand had won more potential customers who would most likely come back again to eat for the exchange of money.

Should there be any pedagogues among my readers at some point, I have to say from personal observations that this strategy eventually worked and a lot of my classmates as well as me were really working harder, getting better results.

A similar idea had been put in practice about a month ago by the electric shop Media Markt.

For every “1” (A) on the report card, the students got € 2 discount on every PC game, CD and DVD they purchased. For every “2” (B) there was a € 1 discount. Considering that German schools usually have eleven and more subjects on their curriculum, good students saved a lot of money on the stuff they bought.

Now of course I know that the examples mentioned above can hardly be used in a classroom by teachers. However, what the whole thing showed me is that people actually really DO respond to incentives and not only in terms of economic activity alone. It is simply important to find THE incentive that students would be willing to respond to. If that is found, the desired behavior can be achieved relatively easily.