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Being Creative Is More Important Than Learning by Rote: Eastern countries top the PISA global tables for reading, science, and maths, with scores well above many western countries. Educational performance in these countries is exceptional, and some western countries, including the UK, are trying to mimic the success in various ways. One of the most recent ways is a landmark deal to translate Chinese textbooks into English.

The drive to match our Eastern counterparts may seem like a good idea, given their academic success, but it could be to the detriment of what makes our education system successful in its own right.

Eastern learning approaches are very different to ours, particularly in the prominence of learning things from rote – essentially memorisation through repetition. Should we be chasing this ideal to hopefully improve our performance ranking, or sticking to other methods, like conceptual learning?


Rote Learning vs Conceptual Learning

Very simply, rote learning is learning information for the purpose of recalling it at a later date; this is often achieved by learning information through memorisation. Through rote learning, children gain knowledge, but often little understanding or comprehension of that knowledge. An example of rote learning would be memorising the multiplication table.

Conceptual learning, whilst not the opposite of this, is a very different approach that involves teaching concepts. Through conceptual learning, children learn how to apply what they know to the situation at hand. This enables them to create a conclusion based on evidence and prior knowledge. An example of conceptual learning would be learning when and why to multiply.

Different learning methods, like conceptual and interactive, promote creativity and critical thinking. These learning styles encourage children to think creatively to solve problems, not just rely on previously learnt solutions.

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Rote learning has some benefits to education performance, as demonstrated by the success of countries that widely rely on the style of learning, like China. This is particularly the case when you consider the current exam culture.

A recent study from the Trinity College Dublin explored why so many students rely on rote learning. Findings of the research showed that intellectual skills were mostly absent from exams, along with analysis and creativity. The exams replaced these skills with factual knowledge recall.

In today’s exam culture, rote learning can translate to higher performance, as the structure of exams values repeated information. However, this doesn’t necessarily carry through to the ‘real world’, where intellectual skills are highly valued.


Creativity Drives the Economy

There has long been criticism over how inadequately exams measure intelligence, particularly when it comes to those skills that fuel the arts and creative industries. In these areas, knowledge and understanding go hand in hand; both areas of intelligence are very important as it’s difficult to be innovative without the ability to be creative.

The current driving force behind the local and national economy in the UK are creative industries. Employment in these sectors is rapidly expanding at a rate that’s twice the speed of other industries. Creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving are highly valued in today’s world, as the skills behind innovation and economic growth.

Rote learning is essential for learning a foundation of knowledge from which to progress from, but for a well-rounded education that applies to the modern world, it’s not enough. Students need to understand the information that they’re taking in, in order to know how to apply it to new situations and utilise the value of new information for more than just exams results.


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