How important is handwriting?

FINGER-PLAY Srijaya Char explores the importance of handwriting in an age of highly advanced computers

How important is handwriting?

Most are of the opinion that as long as handwriting is legible and not a scrawl one should not face any ridicule from others regarding one’s handwriting. There was a time when students were put through the rigors of ‘cursive’ writing in convent schools and had to write pages and pages of copy-writing on double-lined notebooks to improve their handwriting. Not many benefited by this exercise.

In the age of computers, handwriting, like so many other things that was once seemed vital - such as ballroom dancing or learning Latin - does not seem all that important anymore. Writing uses muscles and the hands, and fingers have to be trained in a particular way if we have to write cursive. The very same fingers and hands can be trained to flash across a keyboard, fiddle with a mouse, or manipulate a game controller. The finer motor skills needed to neatly cross t’s and dot i’s do not seem to be as important as the content of what is written.

Gadets and writing

Children who are capable of using their fingers to send text messages on their cell phones even from inside the pockets are unable to manage proper cursive. The very same children are able to complete assignments once they are in front of their computers. The print is quite legible without any spelling errors even when not spell-checked!

In schools, most of the teachers keep harping on proper and neat handwriting which many times hamper the creativity of children whose left brains are more active than their right. The system of writing a board examination at the end of 10th Standard becomes a very important criterion in our country and it is natural that parents and teachers want the students to produce a well written answer paper so that it does not put off the examiner who corrects the paper.

There is a theory that handwriting is deeply personal. We develop our own handwriting styles in concert with the way our brain signals fire in unique patterns that are remarkably different and constant for each person. Handwriting is a primal and unconscious act that can be tough to change.

Handwriting habits begin in childhood. Immature grips and awkward postures often develop when children begin writing too early. Once established, forceful grip patterns and awkward postures can continue into adulthood. Latest findings say that smart kids often have a hard time when their brain thinks quicker than their hands can write, and when teachers insist on good and neat handwriting, their thoughts get lost. They often forget what they wanted to say if they are slowed down because of trying to be neat and tidy with their handwriting. It is not right to stifle the mind of a child because her hands will not cooperate with her mind.

Why torture students to write in a style (cursive) that the fastest and clearest hand writers avoid?   In the computer age, it might seem as though proper penmanship is becoming less important with each passing day.

The problem with education and academics in our country is that a badly written answer paper may hurt a student’s performance in the matter of scores. Katrina Erickson, an occupational therapist and national presenter for the ‘Handwriting without tears’ programme says, “A child who struggles with handwriting spends more time thinking about the letters she is writing than the words or the content that she is putting down on paper.” This programme was hosted in Seattle, for teachers, in 2006.

Research estimates have shown that students who get unduly worried about their handwriting get so stressed during examinations that they do not perform as well as they would in the tests if they were given objective multiple choice questions and the person who does the correction is a little more patient and understands the mechanisms of the ‘right’ brain and the ‘left’ brain. It is rather sad to break the heart of a child by cutting marks for bad handwriting! This is not an uncommon feature in our country.  All said and done, the teachers who painstakingly teach the art of good handwriting to children and expect them to write neatly every time they put their pencils or pens to the paper need to be complimented for their efforts.

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