Don't outsource our mental capacities to computers

Rote learning is defined as "repeated study using memory rather than understanding". But what about repeated study using memory with understanding (Rote learning not as mindless as thought, by Mr Paul Chan Poh Hoi; Sept 15)?

Students need not and cannot memorise everything. Electronic gadgets and other teaching aids are fantastic for storing data, but should we outsource all our mental capacities to gadgets?

Why should a musician spend hours memorising a piece when he can look at his notes? What about a doctor who must have constant access to his medical texts during consultation?

It is often asked, "Why learn mathematics when we have calculators?"

Well, why walk when we have cars?

I have a few French dictionaries. Are they alone sufficient for me to write a letter in French? I doubt it.

I am grateful to my language teachers who compelled me to memorise idioms, poems and essays. I learnt to appreciate literature and even acquired a desire to write.

I am also grateful to my mathematics teachers for the volumes of homework they assigned. Without those exercises, I would find it much more overwhelming to stand in front of a class to show the students the usefulness and beauty of maths.

When I was teaching, I was very frustrated by some students who refused to reason and memorise anything.

They were not stupid but they were allergic to mental effort of any kind. Their goal of studying was not to become fertile fields of learning but to become conduits through which some knowledge can flow pass through quickly in exams.

Fortunately, I also had students who questioned, understood, memorised and utilised what they were taught. They went on to achieve much more than I could.

I am thankful for computers. But scientists are still finding it an impossible task to develop a computer that can be remotely comparable to a brain.

The brain cannot be overused, but it is often underused.

We should let all computers be accessories to our brains and not the other way round.

Ee Teck Ee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2017, with the headline 'Don't outsource our mental capacities to computers'. Print Edition | Subscribe