Now some of you might look at this and say, "Hmm, that sounds nice. But it's Utopian."
There is proof.
In the mid-1990s, Microsoft started an encyclopedia called Encarta. They had deployed all the right incentives. Professionals were paid to write and edit thousands of articles. Well-compensated managers oversaw the whole thing to make sure it came in on budget and on time.
A few years later, another encyclopedia got started, with a different, "do it for fun" model. No one was paid a single cent. They did it because they enjoyed doing it.
Now, if you had, just 10 years ago, asked anyone who would win out between these two different models for creating an encyclopedia, you would not find anyone who would have predicted the Wikipedia model.
This is the titanic battle between these two approaches. There is intrinsic (bottom-up) versus extrinsic (top-down) motivators. There is autonomy, mastery and purpose versus carrots-and-sticks.
Who wins? Intrinsic motivation, autonomy, mastery and purpose - every single time.
The secret to high performance isn't rewards and punishments, but that unseen intrinsic drive - the drive to do things for their own sake and the drive to do things because they matter.
If we can get past this dangerous ideology of carrots-and-sticks, we can radically transform and strengthen our education systems.
* Parts of this article are adapted from Daniel Pink's "Surprising Science of Motivation".
Dr Theva is a senior lecturer at the School of Educational Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia. Through this fortnightly column and the ENGAGE (Education for Sustainable Global Futures) programme at USM, he and his colleagues hope to help transform the landscapes of Malaysian schooling and higher education systems. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-The Star/Asia News Network