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Handwriting: education fundamental or redundant technology?

This four minute video from Seven Sharp discusses recent changes to the teaching of handwriting in many schools, and takes a look at research into the impacts of handwriting on literacy and development.

"There is growing concern that too much focus on technology is coming at the expense of an education fundamental."

The Ministry of Education states that handwriting is not in competition with technology. "The ability to write legibly and quickly continues to be a basic skill in New Zealand society despite rapid technological change. Handwriting is one of the necessary tools of written expression, and along with spelling and punctuation is an essential skill."

Yet teachers are receiving mixed messages. "Teachers have said that they've been told to no longer teach handwriting, that it's no longer necessary, and we're very concerned about this," said specialist teacher Ros Lugg. 'We've been working with schools who simply don't teach handwriting at all." Other teachers report having been told to teach the basic letters initially, but no longer to worry about doing so correctly, as writing and even typing will be redundant technologies. A teacher from an Auckland primary school with a digital immersion model noted that "it's not uncommon for our Year 5 and 6 students to have handwriting at the level of a Year 1 or 2 student. They have an exercise book and a pen, but realistically they never use them."

However, research indicates that learning to write has a significant impact on the ability of children to recognise letters. "Handwriting experience plays a crucial role in the formation of the brain network that underlies letter recognition," (James, 2017). Functional MRI studies show that the brains of children only recruit the 'letter recognition network' with self-generated handwriting. "This is not replicated by typing." For more research on the impacts of handwriting on retaining information, and the differences between pen and paper versus stylus and device interface, see the 'Risks' section of Sensible Screen Use.

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