Are Prizes Real Incentives?

By prizes I will take it to mean the book prizes or book token given out by some schools at their annual speech and prize-giving day.

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Most schools have an annual prize-giving day. As far as I am concerned, this promise of prizes once a year does not inspire the pupils hi general to perform better. My reasons are as below:

Normally, only one prize is given for each subject in a form. The students know very well beforehand who would win a particular prize. In any case, they can pick out a handful of students—maybe three or four, who might stand a chance in receiving a prize, so the desire to improve is present only in those few students. The rest of the class could not be bothered because they know they have no chance. This lack of interest is shown by the best class. As for the poorer classes in the form, the students would not even attend the prize-giving day, much less compete for a prize.


This state of affairs has two possible unpleasant consequences—the prize recipients often become swell-headed and become cut out from the rest of the students. The other possibility is that some losing students actually become resentful. They feel left out and unwanted. On one hand I have seen classmates walking with then” noses in the air while on the other hand I have seen some “vandals” wrecking a classroom while the prize giving ceremony was going on in the school hall.

These ‘Vandals” were later caned and suspended from the school. I can hardly blame them. I personally have been chased out of the school because I was not a prize recipient and the seats were reserved for guests. The moment of being told to leave was hardest to bear. I hope that the teacher who did it was cutting in hill. I can understand that he was all worked-up for the grand occasion but it was no excuse for forgetting the poorer students. The teachers could have easily organized other activities so that every student was involved. This would have prevented unwanted incidents from happening and the subsequent ‘bad-blood’ arising between some students and the teachers.

The few days immediately before and after the prize-giving days are days where the ‘elite’ members of the students’ population strut around. More often that not these ‘brainboxes’ and ‘muggers’ are given the honor of wearing the coveted blue shut-the mark of a prefect. I have to admit that some of them are very humble people who are simply overawed by the positions they are in but some are undoubtedly cocky. It is with a mixed feeling of sadness and satisfaction when I see a Prefect being challenged by some less obedient students; satisfaction when I see their arrogance being cut to pieces and sadness when I see them being humiliated.

The school authorities never seem to notice this basic flaw in the school system, that is, the obsessive drive to produce a handful of “top” students while neglecting the rest. What is the point of giving prizes to a few high-scoring students while the majority of the students cry out for recognition? As if examinations are not enough to weed out the poor students, they must indulge in this perverted form of back-patting; and that is what it basically is, the teachers pat the top students on the back and the teachers get patted in return for a job well done, or so it seems.

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