CrownHeights.info is reporting that Rabbi Leibel Kaplan, Rosh Yeshiva of Tomchei Tmimim Lubavitch Montreal gave monetary prizes to students to learned Gemara ba'al peh (by heart). The biggest prize went to Yehoshua Heshel Mishulovin, who was awarded a check for $4,000 for learning the entire tractate Bava Basra by heart, with Rashi and Tosfos.
Now, let me state up front that this is an impressive feat. Bava Basra has 175 pages. Just doing the Gemara by heart is very impressive. When you add the Rashi and Tosfos on top of it, it's almost superhuman.
The extraordinary magnitude of the feat aside, I have to ask the questions -- was the Yeshiva's money well spent? Was the student's time well spent?
I'm sure that the act of memorization must have taken him months. I'm sure he put a tremendous amount of effort into it. And I'm also sure that by memorizing it, he has become extremely well versed in the text of the Gemara, the Rashi and the Tosfos. But could his time have been spent better? Was it necessary for him to learn it by heart? Or could his time have been better put to use by learning it extremely well and moving on to another tractate and learning that very well too? Is there a point at which the extra effort of learning it by heart causes diminishing returns in the extra understanding of it that he gets from an extra review? I'm not a chinuch expert, but my guess would be that his time would have been better served by studying for a comprehensive test on the entire tractate (with Rashi and Tosfos) and then moving on to conquer another tractate.
The second question is whether or not the Yeshiva's money was well spent in this effort. I agree that yeshivos should encourage extra learning and if monetary prizes are a part of that strategy, then so be it. But you have to realize that when you devote $4000 to a prize to one student (no matter how impressive the accomplishment was) then you are advertising that you have "money to burn." $4,000 could probably be better spent in a way that would allow more student to learn Torah rather than awarding it to a one student who performs an impressive feat.