Tuesday, June 30, 2009

School bribes boys to read with Coke

They say that every man has his price – and now a New Zealand school has discovered that the cost of getting a teenage boy to read is a can of Coke.....

A Wellington school is spending thousands of dollars on fast-food vouchers, movie tickets and mobile phone top-up cards all to "bribe" boys to read books.

The scheme at Rongotai College has raised the interest of the education minister, but a principals' union is concerned that it will make children read for the wrong reasons.

Pupils get prizes when they have read a certain number of books. The school, which is trialling the system with year 9 and 10 pupils, says the initiative has been so successful that the number of books borrowed from the library has doubled.

Teacher Kit Norman, who is in charge of the programme, admitted the prizes were a payoff, but was prepared to do whatever it took to get pupils reading.

"I am the first person to admit it is a bribe, but the results speak for themselves.

"Boys don't read enough. Some are only reading one book a year, so we want to push them. We are not trying to turn them into English students, we just want them to read books."

The trial will finish at the end of the year, but the school is keen for the scheme to continue. It costs about $5000 and is funded by the Lions Club and the school's Parents' Association.

The school wants the 250 pupils taking part to read at least 10 books before the end of the year. They have to fill in a reading log, which includes information about the book and why they liked or disliked it, and are marked by teachers. They also have to get their parents to confirm home reading sessions.

Mr Norman said that, if boys read more books, it would improve their writing and comprehension skills in all subjects.

The school has had to order more books to meet demand, but Mr Norman admitted he was facing an uphill battle against other attention-grabbing time consumers such as PlayStation and social networking websites.

Willie Pouao, 13, said he was confident of meeting the 10-book target. He usually read about one a year.

"I never really enjoyed reading, but now it's much more fun that we can get prizes."

He has qualified for a can of fizzy drink by finishing former All Black Tana Umaga's autobiography. He now has his sights on a fast-food voucher.

Education Minister Anne Tolley wants to learn more about the scheme, saying she was interested in any programme that motivated pupils and improved achievement.

But Principals Federation president Ernie Buutveld was concerned that pupils could be reading for the wrong reasons and a "pat on the back" from parents was a better reward.

"As an interim step it's OK, but as a long-term solution there has to be another method."


Two books: Can of fizzy drink.

Five books: Subway voucher.

10 books: Movie ticket.

20 books: Mobile phone top-up voucher.

Top two pupils in each class: Rongotai College blazer.

Top three pupils overall: $50 voucher at Real Groovy/Rebel Sport.awarded a mobile phone voucher, with each class's top two pupils winning a school blazer, and the top three students overall taking home a clothes voucher.

I'm all for encouraging kids to read and am not above bribery - I'm realisitic enough to know that sometimes that's the only way you will get some kids to read. But I think it needs to be healthy bribery that doesn't encourage munching on junk food for a start. I just hope the scheme fosters a love of reading in these students, not just another way of getting a top up on their cellphones.

What do you think? A good, bad or just plain stupid idea?


Café Chick said...

Let me preface my comment by saying that I was/am a teacher.
Reality is that it's hard to get some kids to read, especially boys. The first few Harry Potter were phenomenal in breaking down reading barriers for kids (boys) but with the rise in reading age required to read later books in the series, I fear that there were some reading casualties along the way.

I have taught in schools with great incentives and schemes; The Millionaires' Club was a fantastic one and was based on kids aiming to read one million words (average), which apparently you can reach after reading a certain number of books. There were activities along the way and they came out with a pretty snazzy personalised certificate. BUT, they were primary school children; I don't pretend that it's that easy with teenage boys.

Prepay top-ups, movie tickets etc ... that's brilliant as far as I'm concerned, but junk food has powers over kids beyond our reasoning and often these rewards are donated/sponsored. So what to do? Rongotai College has recognised and attempted to address a very real need. A means to an end?

*climbs back down off soapbox*

Heather said...

As I was reading this I was happy enough about the idea but disturbed at fast food as an idea. But if it's subway, it's healthier than other choices. Why not, whatever fosters a love of reading!

Krissi said...

I think bribery is good idea, we have to start somewhere. But I don't like the idea of using fizzy and food as bribes - its not healthy.