Whose job is learning?

A fundamental issue with incentive programs or studies in education (ex. teacher merit pay, paying students for grades) is that they ride on the assumption that those being incentivized are simply not working hard enough. This is why I tend to appreciate those incentive programs that instead explore incentivizing specific actions that we know to produce positive outcomes for students (ex. participating in specific professional development, students reading more books). While the assumption is still that this is an incentive problem and not a lack of knowledge/skills problem, I think it’s at least a step in the right direction. That, and it’s been shown repeatedly that incentivizing people to participate in specific actions, rather than achieving long-term goals, works a lot better.

Consider the specific issue of incentives for students, though, which includes paying students for grades (a simple example). This is a relatively small field of research, and I think part of the reason for that is because it’s harder to think about student actions being manipulable by policy. The philosophical question I have here, though, is this: How much of student achievement, amenable by policy and practice, is the responsibility of schools and teachers versus students? 

What I mean is this: We know that students reading more books tends to produce higher achievement. But is it the job of educational policy to incentivize students to read books with the expressed purpose of increasing academic achievement, or should it focus more on making sure schools and teachers do the best they can? I think this is especially relevant to that “there’s no homework in Finland” photoset that’s being passed around Tumblr right now. Here in the United States, it’s sort of normal to discuss the parts of learning outside of schools that are the responsibility of the student, like homework. But is this a necessary aspect of education? 

Does it make any philosophical sense to incentivize students to participate in activities that increase student achievement, regardless of their own interests and/or agency? Or is this not the job of education policy, which should instead be focusing on the education system and how it can increase achievement outside of what students do on their own? (I don’t have an answer to this. I’m just posing the question.)