Leaving Cert and rote memorisation

Sir, – Your Editorial (“A signpost, not a destination”, August 15th) says in relation to our two-year Leaving Cert course: “A new study by Dr Denise Burns of DCU indicates that rote learning (sic) continues to dominate over critical thinking.” It’s true that rote memorisation dominance exists. It’s also true that critical thinking shortcomings can be rectified easily – and ought to be, for level-playing field purposes – during the first semesters of third-level courses.

However, you and Dr Burns imply that the dominance is at the expense of critical thinking and that this is a bad thing. It may be, but that isn’t necessarily so. It depends on what’s to be learned.

It’s highly relevant that Dr Burns found that the small cohort she interviewed found that learning STEM subjects was distasteful for many of them. That was due to shortcomings related to accurate, quick memorisation of massive amounts of foundation information. The same would be said by those who undertake such as third-level business, law, medicine, dentistry, veterinary, aviation, agriculture, finance, macroeconomics, social science, sociology, education, philosophy, politics, psychology, history and theology learning.

The truth is that those who self-train to rote memorise well set themselves up to excel – including via critical thinking – with ease in all kinds of learning lifelong, and those who don’t so train shoot themselves in the foot, so to speak.

To the degree to which people at all life stages can’t rote memorise word-perfect a 100-word, say, paragraph in three minutes they are memory cripples. They are, to that degree, foredoomed to under-perform, waste time, and endure misery. – Yours, etc,


Ranelagh, Dublin 6.