Rote memory is dead, and students across the world rejoice- educators are finally becoming disenchanted with their old friend: the written exam.
And it’s about time too. As early as the 1930’s, John Maynard Keynes described a society where technological advancement would outpace the destruction of jobs at a rate faster than new ones were created.
Unfortunately, in a society ruled by WI-FI, Keynes’ theory has never been more applicable. And if the Oxford funded paper on the future of employment is true, 47% of all US employment is at risk of computerization.
If education is our only way out, perhaps it’s time for some drastically differing learning environments?
A spate of schools have emerged to take up the challenge to prove that rote memory is dead. Let the battle ensue.
One such example was detailed by Fiachra Gibbons in her December 2014 Wired feature on the self-made, billionaire philanthropist Xavier Niel. He opened a somewhat unorthodox coding school.
Called ‘42’, the school was named in homage to Douglas Adam’s novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in which the number 42 claimed to be the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.
42’s unorthodox learning style proves that rote memory is dead, and is described rather succinctly by Gibbons:
“Don’t worry about accommodation…when you’re not working through the night you can sleep on the floor”
It appears that Niel, amongst others have given the way we learn a rethink.
No longer are the days when learning for an exam meant long coffee filled nights, going over topics again and again in an attempt to imprint an entire years’ worth of knowledge in your mind. No longer are the times you’d look outside hopelessly at the breaking dawn, engulfed with the unshakable fear of ‘what if my question doesn’t come up?’
Rote memory is dead.
It’s certainly not an efficient means of educating. Why? Because it more or less exclusively deals with words.
Instead, we should be moving towards a system that champions the relationships between mental concepts and ideas, rather than focusing on repetition and surface knowledge, the type of knowledge that inhibits the ability to truly understand something.
Conversely, creative problem solving is bursting onto the scene in a big way, and is now a prerequisite to success. It proves that rote memory is dead, or at least, dying.
General Assembly agree and have built up their global education network for entrepreneurs around one idea: working knowledge. It’s emblazoned on their website, so it must be true.
Julien Deslangles-Blanch, the regional director of General Assembly in Germany and the UK, stands by the belief that students:
“Can’t actually acquire knowledge until they practice it, because they very much learn by doing”
The back door of the school leads to the front door of the
factory coding lab
The London campus has a certain serenity to it. A beautifully designed building that manages to be both futuristic and retro at the same time. There’s potted plants everywhere, probably the cleanest air in London and not a “single straight wall” Julien told me, as he gave me the guided tour of Second Home, where General Assembly have taken residency.
With around 1,000 students graduating around the world every month from their 19 campuses, General Assembly are forcing an entire industry to move away from a 20th century mode of education known as the factory model.
The Victorian era system had one thing in mind, practicality. The aim of which was to teach as many students as possible the basic skills required to enter the factory.
General Assembly and others like it are trying to prove that rote memory is dead, and instead move towards a more agile learning ecosystem that’s constantly adapting.
As is the case with ‘42’, General Assembly spend less time teaching through traditional methods, and more time taking a bottom-up approach to learning, essentially turning any previous idea you had of schooling on its head.
There’s certainly no note passing here, no seething teachers whose muffled screams can be heard four classrooms away and especially no suspect P.E teachers. There’s just practitioners at the very top of their field.
“If you compare the style of teaching we have, to that of the traditional class experience where you have the teacher addressing the classroom, there’s no comparison. We’re very much about giving students the tools that they need to start building knowledge. It’s then a matter of students going away as a group and learning together. In doing this, topics are constantly being reinforced. It’s extremely hands on”
The figures speak for themselves, and with 95% of General Assembly being employed within 3 months of leaving, it proves that rote memory is dead and that there’s certainly method to the madness.