Memorization Machines


Going over newspaper headlines year after year, the results from WASSCE and other standardized tests have been declining. We are tempted to believe that students of these days are not smart. It is easy for people to pass judgement and say that these students are not serious and are distracted by social media and television. Really, the number of students who have lost interest in school is rising, but I don’t think we should blame these students entirely. Students seem to perform worse as the years go by but these children are undoubtedly smarter on the streets and in our homes. They are sharp and intelligent, but the results of standardized exams show a different trend. What could be the problem behind this decline in academic performance that is at odds with the rise and rise of smart kids in our homes?

The problem, I believe, is that schools have refused to take full advantage of the information age. Yes, lecturers upload materials online and we have e-libraries and all the other things that we do with the internet. True, these things have helped to improve the system but there are other problems I feel we have to face. The test system and the nature of our classes! These are still aligned to favour the system where information was not readily available. In those days, school was almost the only place one could get professional information, so it was ok for people to try to store as much information as they could in their heads and in notebooks. Rote memorization was employed to ensure students could pass exams. This was also in response to the nature of exams. Many years later, our school system still uses the same principle to test students in a world where so much information is available to the student. One cannot possibly apply rote memorization to capture all the course material available. Rather a good understanding of basic principles should be explained to students with keen interest. They should be allowed to access fringe information during tests such as formulas and all. The test should be aimed at ensuring that students can apply such knowledge, not aimed at testing how much they can memorize. This is because no real life job demands solutions solely from memory. With this there will be more functional graduates in the real world who can make better decisions with the wealth of information available to them.

The school system refuses to acknowledge this fact and still encourages standardized tests that require students to memorize information rather than understand for better analysis and synthesis (I mean, people write JAMB without scientific calculators!!!). This explains the reason why many people graduate and yet are not useful to society. Because after all those exams have passed, all that information is forgotten and we reset to start downloading for a new exam. This is largely the case, but not entirely. It is the reason why Universities produce ignorant graduates with great degrees. Why would you expect a student to memorize all the formulas in your course work when he understands the basic principles and why, when and how to apply the formulas? Why should he memorize them when he can get those formulas online almost as fast as he can retrieve them from memory, but with better precision? The system has to change to reflect the change in the world so that we can produce graduates who are relevant to this age. We still produce graduates who have memorized and regurgitated information all their lives like they are meant to work on the assembly floor in factories! Then we sit back and ask why they can’t think and create solutions in society. They are only products of an old system and hence majority of them need a lot of pre-work orientation and training to become useful to their respective employers. The gap between the skills needed and the skills available can be cut down by changing the school system and providing an environment where education can take place, not just schooling! We need to create a new breed of thinkers. People who can figure things out and schools are in the position to provide society with these people. Unfortunately, our schools are churning out compliant, conformist and uneducated graduates who are an added cost to employers and society at large. If we must create a better society, we must create better citizens. If we want a different result, we must use a different method! The bottom line is change! 

6 thoughts on “Memorization Machines

  1. Insightful!!!! and like you said, it's largely the case and not entirely.

    Ever thought of building your own school or managing one? And I mean primary school cos that's where you can capture the kids and train them from scratch.

    As for JAMB and other external exams, you can constructively pitch your ideas to the Ministry or any Authority responsible. Don't know If I am making sense.. Well, just saying. Knowing is not enough, we need to act, that's the only way CHANGE can be set in motion.

    This is just my opinion, that's what SCRIBBLES is for, right?


  2. I feel that the issue again boils down to individuals. We can't keep waiting for the system to fix itself. Each year youth are asked to serve at secondary schools. This is an easy way into the system to try an make change possible. Social media is a powerful tool and the power of a determined individual is immeasurable. We are all products of the system and as a result part of the system. We can't keep distancing ourselves saying “it's their fault”. The fact that you do nothing makes it your fault too.


  3. Knowing is truly not enough. I need to do something, not necessarily starting a school. One way would be to tell other people about this and get people's opinions. We have to create the awareness first.


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