One of the big educational focus areas for my daughter (aged five) right now is handwriting: being able to write the alphabet and write words. She has fun learning, as do I with her. But in today’s computerised world, is the art of forming letters a means to an end, or an end in itself? And do failing standards in this area matter?
There was an article recently in the Sydney Morning Herald asking this very question. It tells of senior students who are unable to write quickly or fluently, and indicates that “the finger is being pointed at technology”.
I don’t like the blaming nature of this statement. Is this lack of ability a bad thing?
Occasionally in a work setting, I’ll stand up at a whiteboard and write some stuff. And I’ll occasionally write something down on a scrap of paper if I’m out of reach of my laptop. But otherwise, handwriting doesn’t feature in my day-to-day working life. Nor does it in that of most people I know. Outside of work, I’ll write some Christmas cards and the odd birthday card. And I probably write 15 cheques per year. But beyond that, there’s little writing going on.
My guess is that handwriting during the early years of education is important to help kids to recognise letters and to bring together the worlds of the spoken word and the written word (be it handwritten or typed). Yes, it’s a useful skill to have. But if it fails with lack of practice, I don’t see this as a bad thing. As long as that education serves as a useful platform for learning how to read and spell, then the job is served.
My guess is that during her formal education, handwriting will feature less and less with time. And typing will feature more and more. I would much rather she left school being able to type quickly and fluently than being able to handwrite similarly.
I’d be interested in how the average words-per-minute typing metric has changed over time, as opposed to looking purely at the falling standards of writing.
(As an aside, I’d be interested in understanding why children learn to write the letter “a” differently to its standard printed form.)