More often than not, for generations, rote-learning has been the norm. It has been the modus operandi for acing examinations. There has been a flood of complaints surrounding learning by rote- it kills creativity, constrains expression, discourages understanding and so on. However, the method really is only a way of memorisation- through repetition. Like, every other method, it breeds problems when used in isolation.
The thoughts surrounding rote-learning are narrow themselves. The technique is most used in everyday lives, perhaps unknowingly. Knowing one’s own address, phone numbers of family members, capital of one’s country are all a result of repetition. To remember at least two of these is deemed rather important for one’s safety. In fact, the knowledge of English language in the writing of this article itself, benefits immensely from memorising through repetition. How does one know that ‘particle’ and ‘practical’ have different endings if not through repetition? Understanding a language, its colloquial phrases, mannerisms all involve rote-learning.
Imagine the librarian in your school. They are in charge of arranging books based on subjects, sub-genres, and the authors. With every new book that arrives, their memory of this arrangement is refreshed (read: repeated) and the book is placed where it belongs. Then, you can waltz in one day asking for Machiavelli’s The Prince and be immediately directed to the third shelf of the last column in the eighth rack of books on your left. Envision this same arrangement in our brains when we learn anything. Repetition helps us categorize and store relevant information. One may have read a lot of books, but until the information is repeated- through a conversation, or an internet browse- it is an unfiled book, often inaccessible. That’s why, you know about astrophysics but just not in that moment.
Like spellings and formulae, repetition is useful in remembering concepts also. Most standard examinations are criticised for promoting regurgitation of textbook material. Certainly, a pattern of correction which mandates verbatim repetition of concepts is erroneous. That hinders expression, creativity and disturbs learning. But it is not the general prescription of rote-learning. The emphasis on using standard terminology helps brevity in communication. An in-depth understanding of a concept is not negated by rote-learning. In fact, for some, the understanding is strengthened through repetition- increases familiarity and accessibility of learnt information