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August 28, 2019 Wednesday 02:04:13 PM IST

Why Rote Learning May Be Doing Good For Our Children

Free-Photos from Pixabay.com

By Sreekumar Raghavan

Indian system of education is based on memorising or 'rote learning' and is meant only to pass examinations. It is something which we hear every now and then in academic discussions. In the light of the Draft New Education Policy(NEP) 2019, it was heard more number of times. On the other hand, some of the best schools and colleges worldwide are focussed on thinking, conceptualising, innovation and learning by doing which is considered superior by many people. Even though not just for the sake of giving a contrarian view, I feel 'rote learning' may be serving a good purpose for our children.
Memory is fundamental to life and survival not only for mankind but also for all living organisms. An animal learns to spot danger understanding some symbols or sounds or even colours. In Indian system of education, we are taught from kindergarten itself to memorise short songs, poems and later on answers to questions and mathematical tables. It has been proven through studies that children of parents who communicate verbally and non-verbally from an infant stage turn out to be better at communicative skills and cognitive abilities as they grow up and attend school.
Success in life is not only dependent on knowledge accumulated over the years which may be specific to a job or activity that brings us income but also in remembering names, numbers, places, addresses and so on. Previously, we used to write down important names and phone numbers in a diary so that we can always refer them in times of emergency. This was the system we followed in the pre-mobility era when only land phones were there to communicate. Now it is no longer a necessity to remember phone numbers as it can be saved in your mobile and also backed up on Google Drive or some other Cloud. We also need not remember complex routes to some destination even if we have to go there again or even ask someone for help. Google Maps and other navigation systems are there to help.
Scientists, neurologists are still clueless on how our neurons are activated in the brain as there are billions of them. How they are 'wired together' remains a mystery. Some progress had been made in neuro science research with regard to sleep patterns and its regulation, decision making and storing of memories. Our memory power increases as more neurons are activated in response to events or learning behaviour. In January 2018, researchers at California Institute of Technology (Caltech) had reported a study being done on 'neuron wiring' in Drosophila fruit flies and the flow of communications. This may the first step in understanding the neural circuits of human brains as well. It is said that some neurons 'talk' while others 'listen' when flow of information happens through the synapses. (https://www.caltech.edu/about/news/new-technology-will-create-brain-wiring-diagrams-80863).
According to Carlos Lois, research professor at Caltech, just as an engineer needs to understand how different components are wired to each other in a device before he can do some trouble shooting, we also need to know how our neurons are wired in order to understand how our brain works.
The onset of Alzheimers disease is one among the diseases related to memory loss. It was found that people who challenge their brain circuits even at old age by spending time in learning a new language, playing puzzles or teasers, games were found to be less likely to develop memory loss. They were also more likely to have better cognitive abilities matching or even exceeding that of 20 or 30 year old's.
The influence of internet, search engines and 24 hour or always-connected mobility devices has already influenced our reading patterns, affected our attention span and memory retention abilities, according to researchers. Earlier, a Doordarshan commercial was 30 seconds long but now a viewer would see three or more such commercials in such a short span of time. The ability to concentrate and focus attention has declined due to too many 'digital' distractions. Marketers know this better than anyone.

Coming back to Rote-Learning Theory

This brings us back to the possible benefits our children may be deriving from rote-learning.It is the possibility of firing more of our neurons and making more associations which may be serving a larger purpose. In olden times, people read and re-read scriptures which were written in Sanskrit verses and repeating and memorising them may have kept their brains young. Alzheimers disease may have been unheard off among our ancestors but becoming more common now. 
A possible question arises as to why our children are reportedly faring poorly in some international assessments. Well, there could be many reasons but there is no reason to conclude that it is because of our rote-learning. It may be because we are not innovating with respect to rote-learning.Or not adding sufficient conceptual and cognitive element in our learning systems. Or the family environment or the comparison of grade causing low self-esteem. 
Perhaps it is time for educationists and those involved in pedagogy to do more research and evaluate the benefits of rote-learning and how it can be improved rather than going on blaming it for all the ills in our educational system. May be the diagnosis is wrong and we are treating for the wrong disease!








Sreekumar Raghavan

Sreekumar Raghavan is an award-winning business journalist with over two and a half decades of experience in print, magazine and online journalism. A Google-certified Digital Marketing Professional, he specialises in content development for web, digital marketing and training, media relations and related areas. He is the recipient of MP Narayana Pillai Award for Journalism in 2001 and holds a bachelors degree in Economics and Masters Degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Kerala University.





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