3 months ago

How to eliminate the habit of rote learning in your school

It is no secret that the Indian education system is plagued to its roots by the habit of rote learning. It is deeply internalized not just as the easy way to score well on tests, but often, as the only way to succeed at school. Before we blame the students, this habit doesn’t just thrive among children, but is many times encouraged by teachers, schools and parents alike.

Rote learning is the habit of memorizing efinitions, concepts and explanations from a textbook or an answer given by a teacher with the intention of re-writing the same on a given test, primarily with the goal of scoring well. The problem with the habit of rote learning is as follows:

  1. It is a short-term solution to a life-long problem: Rote learning may get a few students the score they are aiming for, but it doesn’t instill any real learning in them.
  2. It falsely equates sharp memory with intelligence and knowledge: A child’s intelligence is almost always measured by the marks he/she gets on an exam which only tests how much of the textbook a child can remember, not on skills.
  3. Puts undue pressure on children to conform: A system which pushes every child learn in only one way creates pressure on a child to curb his/her natural talents and focus on memorization.

The habit of rote learning cannot be eliminated from a system by targeting a transformation only among children. School leaders, Principals, Teacher and Parents have all been taught in a system that promotes students to mug up and score well, which often makes them encourage the child to memorise something that he/she cannot understand.

Here are 5 ways to replace rote learning with a healthy system of conceptual understanding in schools:

  1. Encourage classroom participation: With a high Pupil to Teacher Ratio (PTR), it is difficult for every child to be engaged with the concepts being taught in class. Encouraging classroom participation with activities and discussions, in groups or with the whole class will keep the child’s attention in the class, help him/her understand concepts better and will significantly reduce the need of mugging up concepts before an exam.
  2. Change assessment methods: It is very common that a student memorises concepts because of the kind of questions that he/she is assessed on. The classic who and what questions call for a child to remember facts and whereas replacing these with How and Why questions will measure conceptual understanding, independent expression, analytical skills and application of concepts. Include opinion based and analytical questions that encourage the child bring forth a unique point of view, like Higher Order Thinking Questions. 
  3. Activities: Learning by doing has proven to help students retain concepts for much longer and to apply them to real life situations. While students read from books and discuss in class, their learning remains unfinished unless they see the real life relevance of a concept in action. Including activities and experiments helps students experience concepts first hand, engages even the quietest students and brings the learning abilities of the entire class at the same level for one activity. This has a direct impact on concept retention and the need to memorise the working of a concept before an exam.
  4. Structured lesson plans: Teachers are under immense pressure of completing the syllabus on time while managing classes with a large number of students. It is often that a critical topic does not get enough time and attention as it needs for every child to be involved and engaged with it. Using a system of structured lesson plans for teachers that chart the academic calendar topic wise serves as a system of equally distributed time and effort to every concept for every child. Once a teacher has a tool to utilise every class well with activities, discussions and in-class assessments, it is highly unlikely that students will not engage with topics.

The 21st century comes with new challenges that cannot be faced without the right set of skills in students. In an economy that grows through innovation and disruption, workplaces look for teammates who can solve problems, analyse, think critically and creatively in a collaborative and globalized environment. These skills cannot be developed overnight or in a few years, they need to be nurtured at school every day, in every classroom with a structure learning program. And eliminating the regressive practice of rote learning is the first step to helping students succeed in the 21st century.