The debate around handwriting lessons

Does anyone remember what I guess we could call the ‘good old days’?

In the days before everyone had Facebook, iPads and simple access to the Internet, we used to write.  You know, with a pen.  And paper.

Suddenly though everything has a very different feel to it thanks the thing you are likely reading this article on – a computer.  From a commerce point of view, we are talking about something that has revolutionised the world and changed things forever in how we do business.

It’s even had an effect in the education sector too, with tutoring gradually moving away from traditional face-to-face interaction to being a multi-billion dollar enterprise on the Internet.  E-learning has taken over and you can now do degrees online, find Internet-based courses and take part in distance-learning.

Naturally, in schools there has been a marked increase in the use of technology such as computers, interactive whiteboards and tablets.  Kids are being well-versed in the QWERTY language – the style of a keyboard and the language of the Internet.  It’s had such an effect that words originating on the Internet have found their way into the English language.  Only this year, the Oxford English Dictionary was found to include the word ‘selfie’ (a self-portrait often uploaded to sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.)

Coursework is typed out on computers and printed, my entire IT A Level was computer-based and entire texts for English students can be found on virtual libraries for everyone to read.

Fast forward to one Tuesday evening in November and I’m sat in a French class for international students.  Topic for discussion: What do you think about the French school policy that kids must take part in handwriting exercises at their equivalent of junior school?

At first, I didn’t consider it the most interesting topic in the world (I’m a left-handed individual so I’ve come to accept my handwriting is generally awful) but then on reflection it becomes quite an interesting topic when you think about it.  You’re opening quite the debate on if handwriting skills, joined up handwriting and perfectly-formed letters are so important in the digital age.

I can certainly remember the days when I had to demonstrate that I could write correctly – indeed, my funny way of holding a pen and my left-handedness caused a scrawl that was often smudged.

After all, it is a pretty basic skill to have, whatever language you speak.  However, by the age of 10 or 11 you pretty much have a pretty sound grasp of writing and what form your writing takes.  For instance, my handwriting hasn’t changed much in ten years of secondary and higher education – the only difference is that as a uni student I learned a bit of shorthand for when the lecturer just speaks too fast.

The topic became such a potentially complex one that I asked my girlfriend Bethany about it when we spoke last on Skype.  As a final-year history student, there are many texts to read, some of them handwritten in the handwriting of yesteryear. Whilst some have been typed, copied and translated, others are merely scanned onto the Internet for us to all to enjoy.  If anyone loves nice and neat handwriting, it would be Bethany – English students could probably make the same claim when it comes to ancient old texts!

We weighed up the pros and cons of such lessons, considering if it was really worth it in modern society…

‘Of course it’s important!’

There is nothing like tradition sometimes, is there?  Handwriting is a skill that has been taught ever since people first learned to write and notate a language.  Great handwriting has always given off a perception of intelligence, from my memory.  Those who were the first to nail the perfectly joined-up writing when I was at school were those who became articulate and were some of the brightest.  I’m not suggesting that there’s a definite link, but for some reason that’s how it works.
Those who demonstrate good handwriting can often find that they are more creative and are better at drawing as their careful attention to detail and steady hand can help with drawing.  Bethany, for instance, has got pretty neat handwriting and she is good at drawing… Could the two be related?  Arguably yes!
Sometimes good handwriting can be important to a job, for example journalism.
It reminds me of a story I read about journalist Jeremy Clarkson in his early days as a reporter.  He was asked to cover the unfortunate story of a railway worker who had tragically been hit by an underground train.  At the press conference it was said the ‘driver could have stood in an alcove’… Though in an untidy scrawl he noted it down.  The next day the story ran in the paper and it said ‘the driver should have stood in an alcove.’
Considered highly insensitive, damages were handed over, apologies were run and he recalled in an article that ‘the editor, family of the dead worker and proprietor all shouted at me.’
As you can see from this perhaps extreme example you can appreciate the value of nice need handwriting, even when you consider it was shorthand being used.

‘It’s no longer relevant today in a digital age…’

Well, it could be argued that, with the increase in tablets, laptops computers and the like, that handwriting will be a thing of the past, if it isn’t already.  Even journalists make recordings and type away on tablets today, so even in our extremely unfortunate example mistakes are now more avoidable.
IT is becoming a more integral part of our education system, with more focus being pushed onto use of computers.  Pretty much every teacher from secondary school to Doctorate prefers a nicely-typed piece of work to mark.  For a student, it is far easier to edit and adjust a word document.  Suddenly the value of perfectly-formed letters seems a bit reduced.
There are now apps out there that can identify handwriting on tablets and convert it into text.  They aren’t perfect, but you can see how even the integration of the two has lead to a dominant power.

On balance, I would be cautious about jumping to conclusions.  Sure, you can wage a war of tradition versus the real, modern world.  But ultimately, it comes down to how you progress and feel about what’s going on in society.  Maybe you’ll be a traditionalist who will always have a notebook and pen handy – alternatively you could be the modern man/woman who gets a tablet out.

What do you think?  Which will prevail?  Drop us a comment and let us know.

Related articles:

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  2. Help for primary school English
  3. KS1 and KS2 English learning
  4. Help for young English learners
  5. English revision help for kids
  6. English for kids - FAQs



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