Effects of Reinforcement on Students Academic Performance in Nigeria Secondary schools



Background to the study

In the realm of education, reinforcement stands out as a pivotal strategy in teachers’ repertoire for managing student behavior. Among these strategies, positive reinforcement emerges as a compelling technique that significantly contributes to enhancing students’ overall conduct. Simply put, positive reinforcement can be likened to timely and gentle encouragement.

The impact of a teacher’s words, actions, and even inactions on a student’s academic performance cannot be overstated. Recognizing the importance of positive reinforcement in fostering improved student outcomes, the researcher, who is also a high school teacher, encountered a situation where a student lamented mistreatment by a math teacher who resorted to derogatory name-calling. This negative experience adversely affected the student’s performance across various subjects, including English, where the researcher taught.

As an advisor and teacher, the researcher intervened by engaging the math teacher with the school principal’s consent. A staff meeting was convened, during which a speech on “Positive Reinforcement for Academic Improvement” was delivered. Positive reinforcement subsequently became a guiding principle in the researcher’s school. Monitoring the academic progress of the affected student revealed a significant improvement, underscoring the profound impact of a teacher’s words, whether positive or negative.

The pursuit of high academic achievement is indispensable for those who view education as a catalyst for societal transformation and development. However, many teachers tend to rely on traditional teaching methods without fully appreciating how positive reinforcement can positively influence students’ academic success.

Akinade (2012) defined positive reinforcement as the application of pleasant or desirable stimuli in behavior processing. In essence, it involves encouraging good behavior through stimuli that follow such actions. For instance, when a student submits an assignment on time and incorporates additional information, a teacher appreciates the effort by having fellow students applaud. This action serves as an incentive for the student to replicate the commendable effort. Positive reinforcement, as the term implies, is a non-coercive technique that instills a sense of responsibility and discipline in the classroom. It can manifest through verbal expressions like praise, compliments, and encouragement, tangible rewards such as gifts, or non-verbal acknowledgments like applause or a pat on the back. The researcher conceptualizes positive reinforcement as any activity that motivates a learner to engage more actively in their pursuits, ultimately yielding better results.


Iwundu (2019) characterized academic achievement as the level of success attained at the conclusion of an academic pursuit. Lin, as cited in Buseri (2017), views academic success as the outcome of education, reflecting the extent to which a student, teacher, or institution has fulfilled its educational objectives. Despite the prevalent use of exams or continuous assessments to gauge academic performance, there exists no consensus on the optimal testing methods or determining the most critical factors.

Numerous educators lack the essential skills for efficient classroom management (Lannie and McCurdy, 2005), necessitating impactful strategies conducive to learning and behavioral improvement among students (Wheatley et al., 2019). Lannie and McCurdy (2017) underscore that robust classroom management skills are integral to effective teaching.

Research by Moore Partin, Robertson, Maggin, Oliver, and Wehby (2021) established that praising students for appropriate behaviors positively reinforces such conduct, resulting in a reduction of inappropriate behaviors and an increase in desirable behaviors. The study also noted a rise in students’ correct responses to academic requests, attributed to a decrease in classroom distractions.

In another study conducted by Lannie and McCurdy (2017), positive reinforcement was systematically incorporated into a game recognizing instances of desired behaviors. This investigation took place in an urban primary school facing high poverty rates, involving 22 students in a general education classroom. Some parents had requested transfers for their children due to the teacher’s perceived shortcomings in classroom management.

The study, led by Lannie and McCurdy (2017), monitored the duration of students’ work and the frequency of disruptive behaviors. Following formal training on the implementation of an empirical behavior management plan—termed the “game of good behavior”—the teacher introduced the game during an academic period, reinforcing the expected behavior. Teams were formed, and disruptive behaviors were tallied, with rewards granted to teams displaying fewer than a predetermined number of disruptions.

Results indicated a nearly 35% increase in on-the-job behaviors and a 25% decrease in disruptive behaviors (Lannie and McCurdy, 2017). These findings underscored that effective behavior management plans utilizing positive reinforcement not only enhance student behavior but also contribute to improved task engagement. The research suggests that gains in these areas can potentially enhance both teaching effectiveness and student success, aligning with the goals of most, if not all, behavior management systems.


Statement of the problem

In recent times, student academic achievement has been far from desirable at all levels of education, especially at the secondary level among public school students. The researcher observed that many students finish high school without being able to read well and demonstrate mastery in other relevant subjects. The effectiveness of reinforcement cannot be overestimated as documented in journals, books and research articles. However, many teachers have difficulties in implementing the technique. Indeed, some teachers often do not understand how reinforcement works. The problem now is, can positive reinforcement improve the academic performance of high school students in Ilorin local government area of Kwara State, after successfully working for students in other parts of the country and the world? Students have challenges with the learning process because of words,  actions and inactions of teachers, who knows if it can be a panacea for academic achievement among student in Kwara State of Nigeria? Given the above, the researchers investigated  Reinforcement on Academic Achievement of Senior Secondary School Students in  Kwara state.

Purpose of the study

The main purpose of this study is to investigate  Impact of reinforcement on secondary school students Academic achievement in Ilorin   west local government area of kwara state.

The specific objective is

  1. To identify  reinforcement, practices at secondary school level in  Ilorin    Local Government Area
  2. To compare public and private schools on the reinforcement practices at secondary school level.
  3. To examine the perceived effect of the reinforcement on students’ academic achievement.
  4. To examine the extent to which tangible rewards affect academic achievement of male and female senior secondary school students in Ilorin    local government area of Kwara State

Research Question

The following research questions were raised to guide the study

  1. What types of positive and negative reinforcements are used at secondary school level?
  2. Do public and private secondary schools differ on the reinforcement practices?
  3. What are the effect of reinforcement on students’ academic achievement?
  4. To what extent does  tangible rewards affect academic achievement of  secondary school students in   Ilorin    local government area?


The following null hypotheses were tested at 0.05 level of significance.

Ho1: There is no significant different between public and private secondary schools on the reinforcement practices

Ho2:   There is no signifianct difference between reinforcement  and students academic performance.

Ho3: There is no significant different between  tangible  rewards  and academic achievement of male and female senior secondary school students in  Ilorin    local government Area.

Significance of the Study

The study would in no small measure enables the teachers to appreciate the effectiveness of reinforcers and reinforcement in teaching and learning situations. Similarly, it would be incumbent on the study to expose the researcher to various positive and negative attitudes to  students and the implications on academic performances. Further recommendations on how reinforcers  can be useful to educational stakeholders  was drawn from this work for further research studies. Above all, the school system stands a chance to benefit immensely from the implementation of  robust positive reinforcements  which will improve the attitude and academic performance of students.

 Scope of the Study

This research was only limited to  ten selected secondary schools within  Ilorin    local government area of Kwara State

 Operational definition of terms


Achievement Test: A test that measures how much and well a person has learned over a given period of time.

Attitude: The tendency to respond favorably or unfavorably to someone or something .

Learning: A lasting change in behaviour due to repeated experiences.

Motivation: A strong inner motivation to achieve a specific goal.

Negative reinforcement: The removal of something desirable in order to make someone do what is considered undesirable.

Performance: The achievement of a person who can be monitored by another person.

Positive reinforcement: The addition of something desirable in order to make someone do what they consider undesirable.

Reinforcement: Anything that follows a behavior to maintain or increase it.

Reinforce: Something or someone that increases the occurrence rate of another when added or removed from it



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