Is handwriting still relevant in the digital age?
In an era of autocorrect and predictive text, the written word may still hold a pride of place
I clearly remember the day my elder son showed me his notebook, back in 2004, and I was compelled to meet his teacher and thank her for tolerating his handwriting. The scene at home was not very encouraging as he was made to write numerous pages every day, just to ensure his handwriting was neat. Fast-forward to 2021, his siblings who finish most of their work on devices, have never undergone the trauma of being shouted at or condemned for not writing ‘neatly’, since this is the age of ‘autocorrect’ and predictive text.
So in this digital era, how relevant is handwriting? Parents of the tech-savvy generation delight when their infants and toddlers swipe the keys on mobiles and devices — a badge of honour that was once worn by parents of children with beautiful handwriting. Does this mean that handwriting is now a thing of the past? Maybe not. One quick check on Google Chrome throws at least 10 classes alone in Dubai for improving handwriting for children.
While the education sector has transformed rapidly within the last decade, with many accolades attached to its growth, it doesn’t come without its fair share of warning signs, raising a generation that might be too tech-dependent. Reliance on devices with predictive text and autocorrect not only challenges your ability to speed up your writing but also, your thinking capabilities. And the pandemic has further strengthened tech-dependency.
Over time, classrooms have moved from blackboards with white chalk making shrill noise to whiteboards with colourful marker pens. With homeschooling being the norm, teachers allow students to complete assignments on their devices and also ask them to maintain proper school notebooks to practise their writing, as the final exams are still handwritten.
While this whole year, students have been on remote learning, glued to their devices, a sudden switch back to handwritten notes may certainly pose a challenge for the kids.
Students weigh in
Dubai-based student Anna Anil, who is in eighth grade, says: “Personally, I believe that writing as a concept is definitely important in schools. In general, when kids start to learn basic skills, writing contributes immensely. Writing allows kids to make use of their cognitive skills which then not only helps them gain a strong and stable learning foundation but also contributes to many psychological benefits, such as, critical thinking, creativity and good memory recall.” She adds that while typing is easier and convenient, if relied upon too much, it can destabilise learning.
Echoing similar views, Venkatesan, vice head-boy, DPS Sharjah, says, “While the current digital medium of schooling certainly hasn’t allowed schools to focus on handwriting entirely, there are definitely workarounds to this. For example, many schools have adapted to the virtual medium by giving handwritten assignments to be submitted virtually. I think schools should find ways to improve students’ handwriting, since written exams are inevitable in the near future.”
Venkatesan opines that digital dependence has had a varied impact on students, which has its pros and cons. For example, the digital study can be extremely flexible and students can access a lot of free material online. At the same time, students require a lot of diligence and motivation as digital learning paves the way to endless distractions that were usually avoidable. Increased screen time, the lack of a support system and less socialisation can lead to anxiety. In the end, some students will definitely benefit from digital learning more than others. While some students will easily adapt to the digital mode, those who have problems socialising, have poor eyesight, or are unable to stay motivated will definitely find it hard to adjust to online learning.
New tech, new skills
In classroom settings, Logitech Scribe gives a new lease of life to handwriting and puts a spotlight on the importance of communicating ideas in a traditional but powerful way, strengthening the connection between teachers and students in different locations. It bridges the gap between one of the oldest forms of transmitting information — writing and drawing by hand — in the digital world.
Loubna Imenchal, head of video conferencing, Logitech, says: “While technology helped schools continue to teach children remotely during the pandemic, there were concerns about the ability of digital technology to stand in for the physical classroom and interaction between teachers and students. This is one of the challenges that Logitech has addressed with Logitech Scribe, an innovative new product for sectors, including education. It allows teachers and students in the classroom to write and draw by hand, on a whiteboard and share it in real-time with their classmates attending school online.”
Digital dependence is impacting students, their methodology of learning, and communication. Whether young or old, technology has changed the way we communicate with each other. Phone, email, WhatsApp messages, messenger, tech apps, etc. are used in place of pen and paper or snail mail.
Today, as the pandemic spreads, contactless transactions, chip and pin technology, and QR codes become mandatory; even our signatures have become digitalised. However, we need to understand that as students learn the skill of handwriting, they are building other developmental skills, such as sequential memory, hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. These are the building blocks that assist students in other essential academic areas, such as math, linking them to phonetics while spelling, etc. Handwriting also helps students in organisation and structure, committing concepts to long-term memory, and aids in recall. This is especially true of tactile learners.
Rema Menon V., director, Counselling Point Training and Development, says, “With technology and a blended learning style being adopted widely in schools, one may think that handwriting can be done away with. However, even though we use MCQs and marking bubbles for competitive tests, students still need pen and paper test-taking skills while taking board exams and school-level exams. In fact, there were many parents who bemoaned the fact that their children were unable to complete their exam papers in time because they had lost the art of time management and writing.”
The counsellor also emphasises that while one cannot predict the future, the handwriting of a person is as unique as the individual himself/herself. “A handwritten letter or greeting is much more meaningful, original, and cherished than an electronic greeting. Unless evaluation methods of Board exams change, handwriting is here to stay,” she says.
Dubai-based graphologist Sujit Sukumaran, CEO, Optimus Management Consultants, is of firm opinion that handwriting is important and it is here to stay. Why? Even today signatures, whether on a tablet or paper, are required. In HR, certain applications still need to be handwritten, then they are sent to handwriting analyst for study and recommendation based on trait matches and job eligibility. Likewise, there are still several areas where the written word is of importance from an analytical standpoint and till such time a credible alternative is found, the handwriting culture will remain.
“We live in a rapidly evolving digital era. Especially post-pandemic, the whole learning system has been disrupted. Classes have migrated to the online medium, face-to-face contact and pedagogy has been reduced to screen-to-screen contact and overall assignments are now being accepted as typed in and e-submissions. Given the current circumstances, handwriting has taken a backseat, but it will do good if students and adults alike devote some time to put pen or pencil to paper, given the neural circuit activation benefits that instrument-based writing provides,” says Sukumaran.
We are certainly living in uncertain times, the parameters parents once applied to raise children cannot be applied anymore. The trial-and-error method helps find a balancing ground. Nonetheless, it’s a wake-up call for everyone to practise handwriting. — firstname.lastname@example.org