The Importance of Motivation

In an ideal world all students would skip happily into schools determined to extract every ounce of knowledge from their able teachers. But it’s not an ideal world and that’s why motivation is important.

Like many, I have marvelled at Sugata Mitra’s success at enabling children to learn to use computers and the internet without even needing to know English. His ‘Minimally Invasive Education’ success in that area had proven results, however I struggle to see how it would translate to my context. If I were to setup a ‘Hole in the Wall’ in the Grosvenor Shopping Centre in Northfield to reach the 40% of the local community who don’t have a home computer nor internet access, I’m not sure if I would have the same results. The fact is that we have free internet access already in our local libraries and yet this service is not oversubscribed with people desperate to gain the benefits of becoming computer or internet literate.

And when Mitra quotes Arthur C Clarke in his Ted Talk on the subject, “any teacher that can be replaced by a machine, should be,” I worry about how he is interpreted by his listeners. Can everything be taught by a computer in a wall? Can anything be taught by a computer in a wall in the UK?

I think motivation is the key that turns the engine of education.

In India, where Sugata Mitra’s seminal work took place, there is a national poverty target of 23.9% by 2015. They are not on track to meet it. This means that more than 1 in 4 families live in extreme poverty. For children this means hunger, dirty water, poor sanitation and quite probably living amongst the freely roaming dogs and chickens. For a family, a single educated child can mean wealth beyond all previous comprehension. Therefore the motivation for education is extremely high.

In the UK, the situation sounds similar. One in four children are living in poverty, claims the research. But surely this is a different kind of poverty. In the UK poor children can still expect food, housing, clean water and a free(ish) education. In the UK the electricity supply is pretty reliable, whereas in India even middle-class folk can’t expect to have a 24 hour supply of electricity.

So it would stand to reason that the motivation for education in the UK is not quite so strong as in India. Not all students skip into my school determined to extract every ounce of knowledge from their teachers.

And it is for this reason that schools need some way of motivating their students to learn. Please hear me right: what I am not saying is that we need a new National Curriculum subject entitled “motivation.” But I am saying that motivation is an important issue that needs addressing in any school. How we do it is another question, for another day.

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