Rote learning can kill kids' curiosity

I have always been perturbed by this phenomenon: While East Asian teenage students top the Olympiads for mathematics and science ("S'pore students top world contest for third time in a row"; Aug 12), few have gone on to become Nobel laureates.

Perhaps something fizzled out along the way.

The obsession with results is to blame. Parental and societal pressure on educators to produce quick results have culminated in a push for quick solutions, giving rise to rote learning of the subjects.

Rote learning may make teaching easier but this ignores the fact that every child is different and needs to be engaged differently.

When a child is conditioned to commit large quantities of key words and standardised answers to questions to memory, he moves from a curious inquirer to a lame recipient of knowledge. Knowledge becomes his limit.

Unless he is prepared to breach this limit through research at the tertiary level, it is unlikely that he will win accolades for breakthroughs in his field.

Rote learning is repetitive and kills the curious nature of a child.

By Primary 3, most would have felt the pressure.

It does not help that rewards are tied to good grades.

While the template drilling of our youth on mathematics and science may yield results over time, taking the same approach to the arts, in subjects such as languages, history and even literature, proves daunting.

The subjective and appreciative nature of these subjects makes them harder to master, thus turning many youngsters away from them.

In this age, when we encourage the entrepreneurial spirit of our young, we should guard against snuffing out their curiosity prematurely.

A cookie-cutter system of producing exam-smart students does note augur well for our young.

Lee Teck Chuan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2015, with the headline 'Rote learning can kill kids' curiosity'. Print Edition | Subscribe