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Rote learning is not child abuse

Rote learning is getting a lot of bad press these days. Many schools and institutions advertise, ‘No rote learning’ without really understanding how children and adults learn. To some people subjecting children to rote learning is equivalent to some form of child abuse. People who are enamoured by the idea of ‘No rote learning’ line up at these institutions.

Learning is of no use if we cannot recall what we have learned when we need it. Rote learning - learning by repeating something multiple times either in the written or oral form- has survived all these years because there is a great value in it. For some of the things to be learned, there is no other way to learn other than rote learning. Take the sounds associated with syllables, spellings, pronunciation of words or multiplication tables. While it is important to understand mathematical concepts, there are many occasions when a quick recall of multiplication tables helps you to solve a problem. You learn the multiplication tables by rote learning while you understand that multiplication is another form of addiction. Formulas, while you learn to derive them and understand them, you need to memorize them and cannot keep deriving from the first principles every time you need them.

A place for it

Rote learning has a very rightful place in our learning system. Don’t diss it without understanding its importance. Children in any class could be taught to comprehend the meaning of concepts but that does not mean there is no place for rote learning. Memorizing and recalling have bestowed evolutionary advantages on us. We don’t have to struggle to find our way back home from school or the office as the routes are memorized by travelling the same route repeatedly.

Comprehension of concepts is vital and for certain kinds of knowledge ‘parroting data’ without understanding it does not serve the purpose but the basis of comprehension is also recall of data from the memory. If someone is learning by rote large passages of text to reproduce where comprehension is needed, then they are abusing rote learning. Rote learning is a quick and efficient way of recalling data. There are places where rote learning is important and there are places where comprehension and analysis are important. Let us not condemn rote learning as outdated or useless.

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