Rote learning and education


Sir, – Prof Ted Hurley highlights a key advantage associated with the accumulation of information, including rote learning of facts (“The war on rote learning just doesn’t add up”, May 12th).

High-level problem-solving skills, critical and innovative thinking and even intuition rely on the accessing of stored information, often from different areas of our memory. The subconscious part of the brain is particularly good at pulling together apparently disparate facts to make new connections that solve problems and contribute to innovation and progress.

We are all familiar with that amazing feeling when the answer to an intractable problem suddenly pops into our mind when we have stopped actively thinking about it. This is the power of the subconscious mind accessing information stored in long-term memories.

Putting together existing pieces of information in new and innovative ways is another example of how the brain contributes to human progress.

Despite the availability of huge amounts of information in libraries, previous generations of educators were still aware of the necessity to teach their pupils facts, including by rote learning, to ensure that these key abilities of our brains were developed. The availability of ever-larger amounts of information on the internet, and its easy access, has not eliminated this necessity.

The modern fascination with the teaching of critical thinking and conceptual understanding should not be at the expense of the accumulation of information by learning facts. Relying on internet searches to provide information on any topic we are curious about will lead to a diminution of these high-level powers of the human brain that rely on processing of stored information. A balance needs to be achieved in our education system that recognises the equal importance and interdependence of learning facts and the development of critical thinking and conceptual understanding. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 16.