Listen to this: According to a 2017 Gallup report, “The ‘school engagement cliff’ poses a challenge for school leaders, with the starkest engagement differences occurring during the middle school years.”
In the report, it was found that Grade 5 students had a 74% engagement rate. However, when you go down the line to grades 6–12, you’ll see a drastic change in the rates. By the time students were in Grade 12, their engagement rate dropped to 34%, which is more than a 50% decline!
What happened? What is with this large divide? While there are numerous factors that can influence student engagement, today we’re going to focus on one key aspect of student engagement: motivation.
Why Do You Study?
Have you ever asked yourself why you study? If you’ve answered because ‘I need to get good grades,’ or ‘I need to be at the top of my class,’ or ‘My parents want me to,’ or ‘I just have to’ then your motivation for studying is extrinsic.
This basically means that your reason for studying is motivated by external factors and/or rewards such as grades, competition, pleasing your parents, or simply because it is what is done. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. You’ll actually find extrinsic motivation dominates most school systems across the world.
But… extrinsic motivation can be worrisome because it creates reliance on these external factors. Let’s say the reason you like studying is because you like being at the top of your class. What happens when you find yourself in the mid-tier? Will you lose the motivation to study? In an ideal world, students have a balance between both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.
The traditional school environment is built on a rewards and punishment system (if you don’t study, you get a failing grade), where standardized tests are judges of your intellect, and curriculums and subject matter are dictated by schools. While this isn’t necessarily all disadvantageous for students, it does remove one very important aspect — autonomy and the power of choice.
The Power of Choice
This power of choice is the key to intrinsic motivation. Think about it, once you’re given the ability and freedom to make your own choices, you are automatically held accountable for your own decisions.
For example, if your parents want you to become a doctor, you are only motivated to study because you want to please your parents. But if you actually want to become a doctor and are motivated by the idea of helping others or are largely fascinated by the human body, then your motivation for studying isn’t reliant on any external factor. Your motivation is now intrinsic, which gives you the autonomy to see your own decision through.
The same goes for your major in university. If you choose your major because of external factors like because it’s something your parents want or because it’s a field where you think you’ll earn a lot of money, your reasons for choosing your major are reliant on something or someone else. But what about what you want?
How To Build Intrinsic Motivation
Intrinsic motivation isn’t something you can just build overnight. You’ll need to have a lot of self-awareness, maybe even do some soul searching if you will.
The first step is to discover what you’re interested in. You might be surprised to find that many students, especially high schoolers don’t quite know what they’re interested in. But that’s not your fault. In some ways, it’s the fault of the adults of the world who impose everything on you from such a young age.
Perhaps you just weren’t given the chance to explore either. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t carve out those opportunities for yourself. Get yourself out there and try multiple things. You can join an art or computer programming class, join the drama club in school, or even just watch a YouTube video. Find out what you like (and no, sleeping doesn’t count!) and dig a bit deeper. Trust us when we say that you’ve got nothing to lose.
After finding out what you’re interested in, get exposure and experience. Talk to industry experts, join a masterclass, get an internship — basically, jump into the fray and start learning in the real world. Perception and reality can be very different. What you see in a video can be helpful, but is ultimately someone else’s perspective. Now that you’ve discovered what you’re interested in, now’s the time to try it out and gain experience.
Let’s say you’re interested in creating sustainable fashion. You’ve bought a few pieces, have read about it online, and even watched YouTube videos. What’s the next step? Find people in the industry you can talk to, build connections, and create more opportunities for yourself.
You can also check out OWN Academy — a career and future exploration platform that helps students connect with industry experts to give them the real world experience they need to gain an edge in their career. OWN Academy has a large network of professionals you can connect with. You can join a class, get the opportunity to snag an internship, and even find a mentor.
After getting exposure, you can now set your own goals. Look at your strengths and weaknesses — can you actually create or sew the clothes you want to make or would you rather find someone else you can outsource that job to? What about your dreams? Is fashion just a hobby for you? Maybe you can sell sustainable clothing online? Do you want to start your own retail business?
You don’t have to have all the answers to these questions right away. Remember, the road to intrinsic motivation is a long one, and there will be times when you change your mind. Just know that studying isn’t all about the tests and grades. It should be about exploration and learning. So go out there — discover your passions, explore different industries, and be armed with the knowledge that your future is in your hands.