Is intrinsic motivation a thing of the past?

Today I went to Macao to interview a group of English teachers on the teaching and learning of English in upper forms in the city. Their biggest complaint was the students’ lack of motivation to learn English, and exam pressure became the only driver for learning English. They admitted that it is not desirable to use exam pressure to drive learning, but if there was no exam, there would be zero effort in learning English.
On hearing that, I thought: ‘Is our situation in HK any better?’

Of course, we know it’s not just English; it’s true of most other subjects. In fact, it’s a common phenomenon today in ‘developed’ countries and cities around the world. While opportunities for schooling increase, motivation to learn decreases. People study mainly for external rewards or societal needs. What has gone wrong in present-day society?

I’m still an idealist, and I’m still dreaming of the day when intrinsic motivation is what drives student learning in schools.


2 thoughts on “Is intrinsic motivation a thing of the past?

  1. I think part of it in Hong Kong is that kids are not nurtured to love reading and literature. I have students and friends who associate books with school and exams, and they won’t touch them unless they have to, so we already have a generation who behave like this. Making students or people to be self-motivated learners have to start at a very small age, in kindergarten and at home.

    1. Couldn’t agree more, especially when it comes to language learning. Once this early, strong, motivation and interest is there, it will carry them through the next 10 to 15 years of language learning in school, and they will automatically do well in languages even if we’re concerned about their exam performance. It’s sad to see that so many of our school students are simply putting up with language learning.

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