Friday, 1 July 2016

Why are our Teens still Handwriting Exams?

So here is an interesting thought. Why are our teens still handwriting exams? With everything around us rapidly becoming digital, I pondered this question for some time. My teen recently completed his GCSE exams and in 2016 didn’t have the option to type instead of handwrite his exams. Only children with special circumstances could opt for typing their exams.

My teen is a typical digital native. He spends most of his life, outside of school, tapping away on a mobile device and typing on his laptop. His interest in computer programming further accentuates this behaviour and so little time is given to perfecting the art of writing. All his homework and assessments are typed, printed and handed-in to the teachers, yet he had to handwrite his exams.

There is an interesting piece of research Handwriting or Typing Exams – Can we give Students the Choice? by Nora Mogey, Mike Purcell, Jessie Paterson, John Burk from the University of Edinburgh which evaluates this question. In summary they didn’t find any particular discrepancies between typing and handwritten exams. In fact they found the biggest barrier for change was the emotional attachment to handwritten exams from both students and examiners.

Handwriting Part of Development

Now, I’m not contesting the importance of learning to write. I also have a 5 and 7 year old and my youngest loves the process of learning to write. There are numerous studies proving the relationship between mark making, drawing and writing, and brain development. [source] [source]

However I believe there is room for readdressing the balance between time spent practicing handwriting skills versus typing skills. Do our kids need to spend hours learning the skill of cursive writing if they have already mastered manuscript writing?

Children with Poor Keyboard Skills

I volunteer at my local Code Club and surprised to see the poor typing and keyboard skills of 9 - 11 year olds. Many of them, will be going to secondary school next year and lacked basic skills, eg. they didn’t know you could use a “shift” key to capitalise a letter.

If we consider that most of today's children will have future jobs which require typing skills, shouldn’t we put more emphasis on teaching these skills? In the past children spent hours practicing calligraphy writing, but today it is seen as an art form. I’m not saying handwriting is dead, but we need to rethink the balance of practice.

Cursive Handwriting Classes Dropped

It is not surprising that in Finland from the autumn of 2016, children will no longer be learning cursive or calligraphy writing. Instead they will be learning typing skills which is more relevant to everyday life. [source] The USA also have dropped cursive writing from its Common Core -  the core curriculum for language and math adopted by 42 states. Cursive writing is a type of handwriting, previously argued to make handwriting faster, but surely now typing can fulfill that purpose.

As children progress through school, more work is done on the computer. Yet, when it comes to major exams, like the GCSEs, they aren’t given an option other than handwritten exams. Surely, we are not testing their handwriting skills, but rather their knowledge of the subject. We want to give students the best option to succeed. If this means typing a history exam paper, because the shear volume of handwriting causes anxiety, why not?

What is your opinion?

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