Last night, I had dinner with a woman from China who now works as a graphic designer for Cisco. She insists that one of the reasons for Chinese workers' excellence is that in schools in China, before students are encouraged to be creative, they are required to do a tremendous amount of copying. So, for example, she was required to try to copy the paintings of great masters. Aspiring computer engineers are trained to copy great circuits. Aspiring writers are first taught to try to copy the styles of masters.
This comports with the way I became a professional pop pianist. I listened to top pop pianists and tried to mimic them, virtually note by note. (But I did NOT get the sheet music--that would have kept me from learning to play by ear.) Only when I could reproduce, fairly well, the piano playing of my favorite pianist, Peter Nero, did I really try to develop my own style.
In contrast, children in U.S. schools are encouraged to be creative from Day 1. For example, they're encouraged to paint whatever comes to mind. They're encouraged to do "creative writing," even "creative spelling."
I'm wondering if copying might be an underappreciated learning tool.