Memorization is not Education

There is a saying that goes something like this: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”.

I try to incorporate this saying into how I help people. Whenever someone emails me or asks me a question directly, I refrain from giving a straightforward answer.

I try to help the person finds the answer himself/herself. I try to encourage the person to think and to reflect upon his/her situation and optimizing the knowledge that person already has.

Interestingly, in many cases, these people already know the answer. Perhaps they never understand the answer that they already know. Perhaps they only memorized the answer without giving it much thought as to how that knowledge can benefit them.

Allah knows best.

My aim in helping them is to try to make them independent; to be able to think for themselves and to not rely too much on spoon-fed, black-and-white answers. I don’t want them to keep coming back to me (or to anyone else) every time they face an issue or a problem.

Not that I am against a person asking for help, I just don’t want them to rely too much on other people. Too much reliance on other people, that is the problem here. I want them to be confident in themselves and in what they know.

They shouldn’t live life in total reliance of other people, because other people can’t always be there to help them.

This might be different than what they are accustomed to. They might be inclined to just fork the answer right out of me and copy-paste it into their lives. Whenever I ask them to think deeper, some of them (or should I say, many of them) struggle with it.

They are not used to thinking for themselves and trying to find the answer. They are used to waiting for the answer from the teacher and write them down in the exam. It is easier that way than to have to “waste” energy on thinking.

I am familiar with the culture of memorizing answers and spitting them out in exams. But real life is very different, more complex, and more nuanced than exams.

In part, I think this is one of the negative effects of exam-oriented education system. By “exam-oriented”, I mean to study for the sake of exam grades and not for the sake of gaining more knowledge and understanding useful for the betterment of one’s life and that of others.

It is better to teach them how to find the answer, rather than to teach them how to memorize the answer. Because in life, there will be times when nobody is going to be there to spoon-feed you.

You need to learn how to feed yourself.

3 thoughts on “Memorization is not Education”

  1. Thanks for sharing a thought that I believe, many of us have on our mind these days. I can't agree more with what you're writing here. Part of our memorizing culture never occurred to understand the meaning of constructing knowledge. Where the knowledge construction comes from inside (like what you mentioned – find the answer himself, etc.). The system back then, during my days, I believe was totally a “feeding session” for us. Learning constructively, that is how it should be these days. There shouldn't be a huge reliance on grades anymore. This needs changes.

  2. very refreshing!
    I have a question, sometimes people do not know how to make a step forward even they know what's their problem or the challenge they face. Is that also a sign of unindependant? how can they be able to manage the problems properly?

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