comic on rote model

This 1975 comic on the factory model of education as rote memorization is both funny and tragic, but the best part is the caption in the upper-left-hand corner: “The brain can store more information than the most complex computer.”

Pair with why memory is not a recording devicehow you can optimize yours, and what the internet has done to improve our collective memory, then revisit Sir Ken Robinson on why this paradigm of education needs to change.

(Via Explore Blog)

Rote model of education considers the brain as only a storage medium. It gets children to mug up stuff and vomit them in the tests. How much they retain after that and for how long is anybody's guess. Typically, the more times you repeat it, the better it gets into your procedural memory. This was sufficient for preparing the factory workers who had to do only particular & limited range of tasks on the assembly line.

The rote model however did not prepare them for problem solving. Problems that arise out of the blue, with no previous knowledge to fall back on. And in this day and age, there is something new everyday. New technologies, new policies, new economic and financial situations, new markets, new suppliers, new geographies, even newer currencies. And the kind of problems they bring along are not only knew but unanticipated too.

As important as problem solving is for today's world, it is not sufficient for tomorrow. Our children will grow up to face a world where it is very important to create new things. Robots and computer algorithms have already taken over the repetitive and routine tasks from us via automation. Advances in Artificial Intelligence and Big Data are now taking over even non-routine tasks from humans.

As per a research paper from the Oxford University, what remains as a safe harbour for humans from the machines in tomorrow's job market are predominantly related to those that involve perception and manipulation, creativity and social intelligence.

Interestingly, and thankfully, Montessori methods address these areas of human development. Strengthening of the fingers, especially the pincer grip of the thumb and the index finger, is embedded into most of the activities for the pre-primary children. And this is achieved by helping them learn to manipulate objects, from the large to the tiny. Creative expression of the child is seen in the various exploratory activities as well as arts and crafts lessons. Creativity is seen even better in the children of the Primary environment than the pre-primary given that children develop their sense of imagination (not to be confused with fantasy) roughly around the age of six. And given the structure of the Montessori environment and methods, children are found co-operating and collaborating with each other, giving them precious skills in social negotiation and etiquettes that does not just stay in the books waiting to be reproduced onto exam papers via memorisation without application. This is best seen in the teenagers in a Montessori Erdkinder environments who have to produce their own goods and sell them in the local/farmer markets. And we all know how important social skills are for selling.

And what are rote learning, memorising or as we call it in India, mugging up, good for? Getting great grades in the board exams and getting a great rank in the entrance exams. Now the good news is that the Indian central and state boards are going to do away with the board exams within the next couple of academic years, which would be even before most of our pre-primary children can get into the primary or first standard. And by the time our children finish their tenth and twelfth standards (without any board exams of course) we can be very confident, not just hopeful, that colleges will be foregoing entrance exams and looking at the problem solving and creative capabilities of our children, much like how our National Institute of Design does today.

By Prem Kumar Aparanji

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