Published: January 9, 2020

Rewarding an effort commitment, as opposed to rewarding actual achievement, is a novel approach to addressing the problem of school absenteeism among disadvantaged students.

This innovative concept was put to the test in a new Life Course Centre Working Paper that examined the effectiveness of a ‘promise program’ involving Indigenous students from six Queensland high schools. The field study randomly divided the students into two groups:

  • A ‘standard program’ where students received a reward once they achieved a minimum school attendance rate of 90 per cent for the term, and then the semester
  • A ‘promise program’ where students were given the option at the outset to commit to put their best effort to achieve a minimum 90 per cent attendance rate over the school term and semester, and are rewarded upfront for this commitment.

The study finds significantly fewer unexplained absences (absences with no valid excuse) among students in the ‘promise program’ compared to students in the ‘standard program’. There is also no difference between the ‘promise’ and ‘standard’ programs’ when it comes to reducing overall school absences (unexplained and explained absences combined). These results demonstrate the positive motivational and behavioural effect of voluntary promises for which participants are rewarded with a small gift. The study is believed to be the first of its kind to use promises and upfront rewards as a tool to address school absenteeism. While the findings are encouraging, there is substantial scope for further research on the topic.

The Working Paper, ‘Rewarding Commitment to Attend School: A Field Study with Indigenous Australian High School Students’, was authored by Azhar Hussain Potia of the Institute for Social Science Research at The University of Queensland in conjunction with Juliana Silva-Goncalves of the University of Sydney and Benno Torgler and Uwe Dulleck of the Queensland University of Technology. The authors collaborated with Former of Origin Greats (FOGS), a non-government organisation which runs incentive-based programs, including the FOGS Promise Program, that aims to decrease the gap in school absenteeism and educational achievement between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.

You can read the full Working Paper here.