Could the teaching of cursive writing be abandoned?

A developed country wants children to use digital tablets instead of handwriting but research shows otherwise

Writing, reading and arithmetic. When you go to school, these are probably the three most important skills to learn as this is what is everything else is based on. Firstly, you learn your letters then learn how to write neatly and then correctly. There is a European country and several American states where the teaching of cursive writing was decided to be discontinued reasoning that nowadays the computer can be used for almost everything. However, it is only almost and these efforts mostly failed as, for example, several American states continue to teach joint-up writing although they are no longer required to. No matter how the world is evolving, handwriting is likely to remain one of our basic skills forever.

Socrates believed that writing is unnecessary as orality can improve memory. In those times, oral traditions were successfully transmitted but, just to be safe, his students recorded his thoughts and if they hadn’t, we probably would not know much today about the genius of this ancient Greek philosopher.

Handwriting has been taught as one of the most essential basic skills for a very long time, which has to be learned either in formal or informal education. What is more, as our previous post says handwriting is a form of art, which is so tightly connected to our personality and culture, that it will never fully vanish.

Can you use your keyboard for everything?

If you think about it, we have the laptop, the smart device, and the keyboard almost all the time in our everyday lives. But what if your batteries run out? If you cannot write by hand, you are unable to jot down a name, an address, unable to write a shopping list or leave a kind message hidden under the fridge magnet?

That is why the news about Finland, a country having one of the most advanced education systems in Europe, implementing fundamental changes in the teaching of lower grades in elementary schools spread like wildfire on the internet. Although it turned out that a plan to completely cancel handwriting was not true, they did start phasing out cursive writing, a method based on the joining up of letters and allowing continuous note-taking after 2016.

Their reasons did not only include digitalisation. The Nordic country decided to replace their old, more complex system with a more modern way of writing in 1986. However, this was rather counterproductive as some of the letters looked very similar and it was not easy for children to write and for their teachers to read them, said Minna Harmanen of Finland’s National Board of Education.

Typing on computer

While the news was widely disseminated online, Finland is not going to radically eliminate handwriting. What is more, schools have a lot of freedom about this issue so teachers are allowed to continue teaching penmanship if they want to. However, where they do not, children learn to write only print letters, and admittedly, they are not likely to use this method to scribble down writings as long as the Kalevala but presumably mostly shopping lists.

Nevertheless, the innovation was not an ultimate success with the society being strongly divided about the matter and there have been multiple experiments and studies since then demonstrating the positive impacts of handwriting on cognitive skills while it is true that some of them had been available before and Finnish schools decided to go down this risky road despite that.

Similar processes have been taking place in the USA as well. The Common Core, introduced in 2010, does not include cursive writing as a necessary skill needed for children in real life, and as a result, it does not require it to be compulsorily taught. Nevertheless, a CNN article says that cursive writing is making a comeback in many schools including Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Virginia, California, Florida, Texas and North Carolina.

But what benefits do handwriting and the more advanced cursive writing allowing faster note-taking have even when a dominant part of written communication is not on paper these days? Our next article will seek to answer those questions.

Sources:

Aragón-Mendizábal, Estíbaliz, Cándida Delgado-Casas, José-I. Navarro-Guzmán, Inmaculada Menacho-Jiménez, and Manuel-F. Romero-Oliva. “A Comparative Study of Handwriting and Computer Typing in Note-Taking by University Students.” Análisis Comparativo Entre Escritura Manual y Electrónica En La Toma de Apuntes de Estudiantes Universitarios. 24, no. 48 (7/1/2016 2016): 101–7. https://doi.org/10.3916/C48-2016-10

Kim, S.-Y., Koo, S.-J., 2016. Effect of duration of smartphone use on muscle fatigue and pain caused by forwarding head posture in adults. Journal of Physical Therapy Science 28, 1669–1672.https://doi.org/10.1589/jpts.28.1669

Megyeri G.; Horváth D.; Cosovan A. Analóg lények vagyunk egy digitális világban – avagy a digitalizáció következményei és lehetőségei kutató és tervezői szemszögből. In Veres Z.; Sasné Grósz A.; Liska F., Eds.: Ismerjük a vevőt? A vásárlás pszichológiája. Az Egyesület a Marketing Oktatásért és Kutatásért XXV. Országos Konferenciájának előadásai. Pannon Egyetem, Veszprém. 2019 ISBN: 978-615-00-58 711–720.

Planton, S., Jucla, M., Roux, F. E., & Démonet, J. F. (2013). The “handwriting brain”: a meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies of motor versus orthographic processes. Cortex, 49(10), 2772-2787. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2013.05.011

Spear-Swerling, L. (2006). Children’s reading comprehension and oral reading fluency in easy text. Reading and Writing, 19(2), 199-220.

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