ABCs to ATMs - The Case for Paying Students to Learn

Chapter 1: Classrooms Today

Current Models of Teaching and Learning

Despite the seismic shifts in technology and social dynamics over the years, the core structure of the classroom has remained stubbornly consistent. Teachers still wield the chalk or the stylus; students still sit in rows or around tables. The agenda is to complete a curriculum, usually one that’s been decided by people far removed from the actual classroom environment. Granted, not all classrooms are lecture-centric. Many educators are genuinely striving to implement mastery-based or project-based learning, trying to shift away from the “sage on the stage” to the “guide on the side.”

However, good intentions and innovative methods only go so far when the attitudes and efforts of students aren’t fully engaged. Despite increased educational spending in recent years, the grim reality is that performance metrics and student engagement are either stagnant or, worse, declining. Why is this happening? 

Shortcomings in Student Motivation and Engagement

  1. Irrelevant Curriculum : Students are acutely aware that much of what they’re mandated to learn will have little to no application in their future lives. This disconnect between the curriculum and real-world applicability undermines the intrinsic motivation to learn.
  2. Guaranteed Education: There’s an unspoken understanding that students are entitled to an education regardless of their behavior. While this is fundamentally true and important, it has also led to a lack of accountability, as students realize there are minimal immediate consequences for disengagement.
  3. Grade Inflation: The prevailing educational culture often emphasizes the importance of passing grades over genuine understanding. Students know they can often get extra credit or submit late work to inflate their grades, creating a system where the focus is on the grade, not the learning.
  4. Information at Fingertips: We live in the age of Google, where information is always just a click away. While educational specialists emphasize making the material more compelling, students know they can easily look things up when they need to. The argument for making content compelling loses its weight when students know that immediate, on-demand knowledge is accessible anytime.
  5. Questionable Role Models: If students look at their parents or immediate community and see that academic success has not necessarily translated into life success, they may question the utility of their own educational journey. The idea that education is the road to success does not hold water if you come from a disadvantaged background despite people you know having a diploma.

The Way Forward: A Radical Rethink

Traditional schools and their architectural designs are becoming increasingly obsolete, but that doesn’t mean there’s no way forward. The future of education may lie in separating the functions of assessment and classroom instruction. By doing so, classrooms become centers for academic work, group projects, and peer support, rather than pressure cookers of standardized testing.

The game-changer, however, is the concept of financially rewarding students for academic milestones achieved and verified through independent assessment centers. By linking financial incentives to academic success, we address the shortcomings mentioned above:

  • The curriculum becomes immediately relevant because it’s tied to financial gains.
  • The sense of entitlement to an education is balanced by a financial accountability system.
  • The focus shifts from grades to mastery, as financial rewards are tied to genuine understanding.
  • The argument for compelling content becomes moot when the real compelling factor becomes financial stability and independence.
  • Parents and communities become more engaged as they see the tangible benefits manifesting in real-time.

In essence, this model aims to elevate the classroom from a space of obligatory attendance to a hub of engaged, self-directed learning and collaboration. It proposes not just a change in educational techniques, but a revolution in educational objectives and student motivation.

Don’t just teach your children to read and write; teach them to earn and save.

Ron McDaniel

Founder, Outstanda

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Ron McDaniel
Author of “ABCs to ATMs”
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