Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Rote learning vs. thinking
However, with some material rote learning is the only way to learn it in a timely manner. For example, when learning the Greek alphabet, the vocabulary of a foreign language or the conjugation of foreign irregular verbs, since they have no inner structure or their inner complexity is too subtle to be learned explicitly in a short time. However, as in the alphabet example, learning where the alphabet came from helps one to grasp the concept of it and therefore memorize it. (Native speakers and speakers with a lot of experience usually get an intuitive grasp of those subtle rules and are able to conjugate even irregular verbs that they have never heard before.)
The source transmission could be auditory or visual, and is usually in the form of short bits such as rhyming phrases (but rhyming is not a prerequisite), rather than chunks of text large enough to make lengthy paragraphs. Brevity is not always the case with rote learning. For example, many Americans can recite their National Anthem, or even the much more lengthy Preamble to the United States Constitution. Their ability to do so can be attributed, at least in some part, to having been assimilated by rote learning. The repeated stimulus of hearing it recited in public, on TV, at a sporting event, etc. has caused the mere sound of the phrasing of the words and inflections to be "written", as if hammer-to-stone, into the long-term memory.

Rote learning Rote learning as a necessity
The system is widely practiced in schools across India, Pakistan, China, Singapore, Japan, Romania and Greece. Some of these nations are admired for their high test scores in international comparisons with advanced nations like the United States. At the same time, progressive reforms such as Outcomes-based education which have put an emphasis on eliminating rote learning in favor of deep understanding have produced a storm of controversy of outcry as a generation of students is failing new math assessments which were aimed at increasing math performance. Some texts such as the widely controversial TERC completely omit memorization or even presentation of standard elementary arithmetic methods.

By nation and culture
New curriculum standards from the NCTM and National Science Education Standards call for more emphasis on active learning, critical thinking and communication over recall of facts. In many fields such as mathematics and science it is still a matter of controversy as to whether rote memorization of facts such as the multiplication table or boiling point of water are still necessary. Some education agencies which embraced the new standards are revisiting in response to sharp criticism from those who believe future generations should learn at least as much knowledge as previous generations have been taught, rather than just "how to think". It is countered that thinking skills alone will not be useful without a base of memorized facts to work with, and that it is quicker to recall from memory than to have to refer to a calculator, reference book, or internet article.

In the United States
In the United Nations Arab human development report for 2004 the (Arab) researchers claim that rote learning is a major contributing factor to the lack of progress in science and research & development in the Arab countries. Asian nations, though scoring well on skill tests, are also studying standards of nations such as the United States to increase innovation and creativity. Studies of math skill advantages of Asian students show them to excel in basic skills, but not in complex problem solving not easily solved with standard methods.

Rote learning is prevalent in many religious schools throughout the world. For example, Jewish yeshivot or chederim use this approach when teaching children Torah and Talmud, Muslim madrasas utilize it in teaching Koran, etc. It is used in various degrees, and more so, although far from exclusively, at a younger age, the main purpose being to memorize and retain as much textual material as possible, to prepare a student for a more analytical learning in the future.


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