Rote Learning vs. Intelligence Learning

15 August 2018, Dave Proulx

Rote memorization versus intelligent learning has been a hot topic in education circles for years. On one side of the argument supporting the rote type of learning, some educators view it as the one thing in the education system that guarantees high scores in the student body as a whole, and ups their student’s national rankings when compared to other countries that have a less rigid type of education system.

On the other hand, there are also educators who feel that rote training is only suitable for young children who are learning the alphabet or the times tables, and that is stifles independent and creative thinking. These same educators are also likely proponents of an intelligence-oriented curriculum, where learners are placed in more open-ended scenarios. Questions, answers and feedback from teachers are used towards achieving an end goal or solving a problem.

In rote memorization, there is definitely something to be said for the technique. Countries in which it is a major part of the education system consistently do well in international scholastic rankings. However, this is sort of a bygone conclusion. The students study, using the rote method, for the tests in particular. Scoring highly on the test itself is the goal, not the education derived from the course of study. These students typically spend up to a couple months studying for a single placement exam.

Such students have traditionally been raised seeing the entrance examinations for a university placement as being on par with a ‘life or death’ situation in importance. These students are well-prepared for the exams; as a group, they generally place above the students who have been educated in an intelligence-oriented curriculum.

Yet, it is actually the students who have been educated in an intelligence-based system of studies who are much better prepared for the way that most universities teach their classes. In a university-level curriculum, the emphasis is most often put on analytical thinking; the curriculum is designed to prepare you for life in the real world, be it academic, business or in a profession such as law or medicine. These are where analytical skills are most valuable, especially when situations call for initiative and solving the problem at hand.

Rote students generally flounder at first in this type of environment where thinking ‘out of the box’ or in any way other than the way that they’ve been taught is needed. Yet, they’re disciplined as a result of their upbringing and study habits and simply put their nose to the grindstone — they study the problem to find a solution.

The lower-ranking intelligence students enter university in much smaller numbers overall, but they are much better prepared for, and tend to thrive under, the university’s type of teaching and expectations for performance. For what it is worth, they seem to enjoy the educational experience more and are happier in general. While every student has pressures, the intelligence-oriented student looks at their education with a greater understanding of what they are supposed to accomplish and what a true education means.

So which is better? Each method yields results. For the rote students, the rigidity and tedium of their educational experience is generally rewarded down the line as high-placing students tend to make high-placing job candidates.

Everyone will have a different opinion of the ‘value’ of education. The rote students usually see it more as a means to an end, and the intelligence-oriented students are more prone to view education as a gift in its own right and use their knowledge gained from education in their daily lives.

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