Do teacher incentives help to improve school performance?
This question has been hotly debated in educational circles for some time. However, any doubts regarding the value of rewarding teachers when their learners excel has been removed by Kagiso Trust’s Beyers Naudé Schools Development Programme (BNSDP).
The programme has brought about a drastic improvement in matric results in participating schools in the previously underperforming Free State. The initiative has a multi-pronged approach which involves all stakeholders involved in schools and education, including teachers, who have been rewarded for their learners’ good work.
KT is not alone in adopting this approach. In 2014, the New Zealand government revealed plans to incentivise teachers, a proposal which meant with a mixed response due to the uneven distribution of the rewards.
However, two years earlier, The Economist had run an editorial on the issue, noting that teacher incentives could well be a panacea for an ailing education system. The article was based on an experiment which demonstrated the impacts of a phenomenon called loss aversion: in the experiment, a group of teachers was given $4000. They stood to lose all monies if their students underperformed but, if they recorded better than average results, they could earn another $4000. The control group, on the other hand, was simply given $8000. The findings of the experiment? The experiment group invested more time and energy, and it showed in their students’ results. Why? Because humans have an intrinsic fear of losing something.
KT’s incentive programme doesn’t work according to quite the same principles, but it has nonetheless proven to be tremendously effective. It is a holistic intervention which aims to support the teacher from a variety of angles, including employing curriculum managers to facilitate teacher development and hosting workshops to gear up teachers’ skills in core areas such as Physical Science, Mathematics and Accounting. Finally, teachers have also been encouraged to complete an online technology training course called e-Skills4 teachers.
At schools which achieved a 100% pass rate while participating in the BNSDP, teachers were rewarded with an all-expenses paid trip to Durban with their spouses. At one school, Rantsane Secondary School, the reward was extended: since the school was able to maintain its 100% pass rate for three consecutive years, the teachers and their spouses were sent to Cape Town and given Woolworths vouchers.
How effective has this element of the programme been? “Extremely,” is the answer of Kagiso Trust CEO Mrs. Mankodi Moitse. Her confidence is borne out by the fact that, in four years, teachers at around 22 schools have qualified for incentive trips. This reflects an enormous improvement in the performance of learners, as schools invited to take part in the Beyers Naudé Schools Development Programme typically have a poor pass rate. The incentive programme extends to learners as well where participating schools not only get basic infrastructure but also get incentive infrastructure if learners exceed the results benchmark.
However, perhaps the most convincing evidence is anecdotal, with Kagiso Trust employees recalling a conversation where the spouse of a teacher mentioned how she used to remind her husband, every morning, of the Woolworths voucher that could be theirs if he gave of his best in that day’s lessons.
“Teacher incentives may not be the solution to every educational challenge, but it has certainly worked for us,” Moitse says.