AS educators place more emphasis on technology and students spend more time with their fingers on a keyboard than wrapped around a pencil, does handwriting still have a place in today’s tech-driven classrooms?
Bonython Primary School principal, Shane Gorman, says what was once a mandatory lesson of penning proper strokes and curves isn’t necessarily a top priority anymore against a “jam-packed curriculum”.
“We have a school where every student in years 5 and 6 uses a tablet, iPad or device to support learning, so it’s a tech-heavy schedule,” Gorman says.“If a student is a fine handwriter already, we wouldn’t sit them down and force them to practise for half an hour because it would waste their time and they’d get bored with school.
“It’s not like the days when I was at school and you’d get marks off if your handwriting wasn’t neat enough. For our younger students, we still teach handwriting techniques; things like pencil grip, proper formation and fitting the words on to the lines. But there’s less focus on it as they go on if they already have those skills – cursive writing in particular isn’t mandatory, we focus on the content instead.”
An Education and Training Directorate spokesperson was unable to provide figures on how many ACT schools implement mandatory cursive writing, but confirmed by the end of year 3, students should “write using joined letters that are accurately formed and consistent in size”, according to the curriculum.
“Technology [acts as] an educational tool to assist with student learning,” says the spokesperson.But president of the Canberra Calligraphy Society, Marg Peachey, says she is concerned the pervasiveness of technology in schools will mean students won’t have the skills that require an understanding of penmanship, from reading historic documents to filling out legible forms.
“I belong to other organisations where you have to fill out membership forms by hand, and you can barely decipher email addresses because the handwriting is so bad, because they’re used to typing all the time,” she says.
“Particularly cursive writing is such a handy skill to have and the fact that it’s not mandatory in some schools is worrying.
“If a student can’t fill in an employment form or an exam, for instance, in a legible way, then that’s a problem.”
However Gorman says the growth of technology in schools isn’t at “the expense” of handwriting.
“I think actually because they’re writing less, when they do write, they try a lot harder to be neat,” he says.
“There’s also the quality of the content of the writing… I had one student who, after we first started using the iPads, said he was most proud of his writing.
“Before we had the iPads, writing was what he was least proud of. I got it out of him it was because the physical writing, as in the letter formation and that sort of thing, was really difficult for him. He spent so much time being neat, he didn’t get much quantity of writing done. And it meant if he made a spelling mistake, he then had to go back and cross it out and write the correct spelling above it.
“With his iPad, he could have six or seven drafts, and still have a final draft he’s really proud of without all the mistakes.”
Gorman argues qualities such as problem solving and good teamwork would exceed handwriting skills when students eventually enter the workforce.
“Your future employer is not going to say ‘you’re not hired’ because you’ve got messy handwriting,” he says.