Rote Learning vs Critical Thinking – Memory or Intelligence?

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Throughout history, numerous methods of teaching have been adopted in class; the most controversial of which, ‘Rote Learning’. Why is this method of teaching despised by modern educators? Does it have any merits? Should it be abolished completely? Below, we will examine the aspects of this teaching method as well as evaluate the benefits of modern teaching techniques such as the development of critical thinking.

Most of you are probably wondering, “What is Rote Learning?” Simply put, it’s the memorization of information, based on repetition. All of us have had to more or less learn something by heart, be it for an exam or simple instructions needed to accomplish a specific task, after which, this information can be dismissed.

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Scholars, rightfully so, condemn this method as it only offers the opportunity to pass an exam, without really understanding the meaning of it. To be more precise, memorizing dates and names for a History test, would mean nothing if the student hasn’t understood the significance of the historic individual’s contribution in question.

Other such examples could be found in foreign language teaching. There is no point in translating hundreds of words from one language to another if you can’t even use a single one of those words in a sentence. A student must learn the deeper meaning of a word, how it is used, its synonyms and above all, other forms it has.  It is a widely known fact that mastering a language is the key to understanding other cultures and civilizations, an essential tool in our new global world.

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Besides the aforementioned issues, another which is of great concern, is the ability to develop ‘critical thinking’ – perhaps THE most essential tool for survival in today’s world. Repetition and memorization of facts can only get you so far in school or the job market.  If one has not the ability to face everyday challenges such as submitting a project for work before its deadline, or simply balancing your financial expenses at home, then the purpose of your education was a complete waste of your time and energies.

Critical thinking is a skill which must be fostered at school from the early years. A child must develop the ability to distinguish between two or more choices and in the long run, learn to think for himself. Self respect and confidence can be nurtured during this process, therefore, leading to an independent individual who can express his opinion, evaluate a situation and make informed choices based on the information given to him.

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But it can’t be all bad now, can it? Does Rote Learning have any advantages? Unbeknownst to many, it actually does! Rote Learning in many ways is the basis of education.

Without Rote Learning, a student wouldn’t be able to learn to speak or make calculations. Memorization of phonics in reading, multiplication tables or even the periodic table in chemistry are all examples of the essential use of rote learning.

As for other daily uses of rote learning? Memorizing an address or phone number on the go is an everyday challenge we might face. Other examples include plays or speeches which require the memorization of such material.

In a nutshell, what is the most successful way of learning? Though critical thinking is beyond a doubt the most instrumental tool for the development and successful integration of an individual in society, we cannot disregard the benefits of rote learning. The key to success is a harmonious balance between the two, resorting to rote learning only in cases of essential memorization.

Katherine Reilly

English Teacher

 

 

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