A Wellington school is spending thousands of dollars on fast-food vouchers, movie tickets and mobile phone top-up cards all to "bribe" boys to read books.
The scheme at Rongotai College has raised the interest of the education minister, but a principals' union is concerned that it will make children read for the wrong reasons.
Pupils get prizes when they have read a certain number of books. The school, which is trialling the system with year 9 and 10 pupils, says the initiative has been so successful that the number of books borrowed from the library has doubled.
Teacher Kit Norman, who is in charge of the programme, admitted the prizes were a payoff, but was prepared to do whatever it took to get pupils reading.
"I am the first person to admit it is a bribe, but the results speak for themselves.
"Boys don't read enough. Some are only reading one book a year, so we want to push them. We are not trying to turn them into English students, we just want them to read books."
The trial will finish at the end of the year, but the school is keen for the scheme to continue. It costs about $5000 and is funded by the Lions Club and the school's Parents' Association.
The school wants the 250 pupils taking part to read at least 10 books before the end of the year. They have to fill in a reading log, which includes information about the book and why they liked or disliked it, and are marked by teachers. They also have to get their parents to confirm home reading sessions.
Mr Norman said that, if boys read more books, it would improve their writing and comprehension skills in all subjects.
The school has had to order more books to meet demand, but Mr Norman admitted he was facing an uphill battle against other attention-grabbing time consumers such as PlayStation and social networking websites.
Willie Pouao, 13, said he was confident of meeting the 10-book target. He usually read about one a year.
"I never really enjoyed reading, but now it's much more fun that we can get prizes."
He has qualified for a can of fizzy drink by finishing former All Black Tana Umaga's autobiography. He now has his sights on a fast-food voucher.
Education Minister Anne Tolley wants to learn more about the scheme, saying she was interested in any programme that motivated pupils and improved achievement.
But Principals Federation president Ernie Buutveld was concerned that pupils could be reading for the wrong reasons and a "pat on the back" from parents was a better reward.
"As an interim step it's OK, but as a long-term solution there has to be another method."
Two books: Can of fizzy drink.
Five books: Subway voucher.
10 books: Movie ticket.
20 books: Mobile phone top-up voucher.
Top two pupils in each class: Rongotai College blazer.
Top three pupils overall: $50 voucher at Real Groovy/Rebel Sport.
- The Dominion Post