Is Rote Learning of Number Concepts ‘Inherently Rotten’ or Is It Just a Blame and Shame Game that Vitiates Principles of Natural Progression?

Michael Kainose Mhlolo


This paper questions the validity of the foundational premise of the ‘problem-solving movement’ following a perennial dichotomization of the ‘old’ and ‘new’ math curricula globally. Essentially, the substance of the controversies that places the ‘problem solving movement’ and the ‘back-to-basics movement’ on the opposite ends of the ‘battle-fields’ is the view within the former that rote learning is unimportant or counterproductive as it does not enhance the development of application skills of critical thinking, logical analysis, and creative problem-solving. The paper then uses Tall’s framework to show how counting is foundational to number concept formation and how rote learning is a necessary first step in this counting process. I then argue that the suggestion that critical thinking could be developed without the lower level concepts is possibly founded on a flawed premise. Globally, there is a current wave of back-to-basics across mathematics curricula. However it would appear in the South African curricula for Foundation Phase Grade R – 3, rote learning is still not valued despite going back-to-basics. This suggests a continued dichotomization of the old and new approaches which does not seem to be beneficial to learners who tend to end up with neither the problem solving skills nor the basic foundational knowledge. The paper recommends that we develop teaching methodology for mathematics and other subjects that incorporates rote learning in an effective way so that knowledge is better conveyed and represented in the minds of students.

DOI: 10.5901/mjss.2014.v5n27p1581

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Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences ISSN 2039-9340(Print) ISSN 2039-2117(Online)

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