Rewarding commitment to attend school: A field study with indigenous Australian High School students

13 May 2020

There is clear evidence of a significant gap in education achievement between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, with the Australian Government introducing its ‘Closing the Gap’ policy in 2008 partly to address inequality in education. As part of the policy, various incentive-based programs were devised to improve educational outcomes, including school attendance, academic grades and classroom behaviour, among Indigenous students. In line with this policy agenda, the Former Origin Greats (FOGS) introduced a commitment-based program known as the FOGS Promise Program aiming at decreasing the gap in school absenteeism between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian students.

We assessed the effectiveness of the FOGS Promise Program with a field study involving Indigenous students from six Queensland high schools, divided into two groups. Students in the ‘standard program’ group received a reward only once they achieve a minimum school attendance rate of 90 percent for the term and, subsequently, the semester. Students in the ‘promise program’ group are given the option at the outset to commit to put their best effort to achieve a minimum 90 percent attendance rate over the school term and semester, and are rewarded upfront for this commitment. Rewarding an effort commitment as opposed to rewarding actual achievement is a novel concept that we put to the test in this study.

We found significantly fewer unexplained absences – that is, absences with no valid excuse – among students involved in the ‘promise program’ versus students in the ‘standard program’. At the same time, there is no difference between the ‘promise program’ and ‘standard program’ when it comes to reducing overall school absences – that is, unexplained and explained absences combined. These results indicate that voluntary promises for which participants are rewarded can influence behaviour, however further research is needed to determine the most effective program design for reducing school absenteeism overall.

The working paper was published in December 2019. Download it here