We’re coming across this topic frequently in news articles, and it’s the subject of many online debates. Is handwriting about to be declared dead, and a useless skill? Is touch typing the future – and only – way of communicating non-verbally?
Teachers, parents, and students are all wondering if learning cursive is relevant in a tech-driven world. This gives rise to a more pressing question: what should students learn first, touch typing or handwriting?
Current changes in education are giving precedence to touch typing and effectively moving handwriting skills to the backseat. Is this wrong, or should it be called smart adaptability? Students are now expected to use their keyboards to do research, complete assignments, and take exams – and this leaves handwriting instruction behind. Justifiably, students need to learn how to touch type in order to effectively handle their school homework and in-class assignments. Touch typing is the future. As gadgets and technologies make their way into the classroom, it’s only natural that schools want to prioritize keyboarding skills over handwriting.
However, this doesn’t mean we should rule out handwriting altogether. Handwriting is a deeply complex motor skill that’s cognitively challenging and essential to master. Handwriting involves several brain faculties at once, including sensory, motor, and language centers of the brain, and of course our senses of hearing and sight and touch. Considering the Common Core standards — that the majority of U.S states have adopted — students need to be proficient touch typists by the time they complete the 3rd grade.
This of course means that students need to formally learn how to touch type in class. This doesn’t indicate, however, that it should entirely replace handwriting instruction. The two are equally essential skills. No matter how pervasive text-language and keyboard-based devices will become in the next 20 years, handwriting will still be required for things like signatures, paying by check, writing thank you notes, and jotting down grocery lists. And of course, there’s the possibility of being creative and expressive through cursive writing.
Yes, the “for handwriting” argument is one that is generally imbued with nostalgia, and for some people even a fear of something so familiar going out of popularity.
It could also be that the rise of tablet use could mean that not even physical keyboards will survive the obsession with touch-screen devices, but isn’t handwriting a uniquely human skill? Given that, it’s not something we should let go extinct.
Writing skills, including cursive writing, are part and parcel of language acquisition and mastery. Perhaps our brains are agile enough to adapt to a new channel of language learning where writing is replaced with touch typing, but then would people be able to read cursive or sign a legal contract if they’ve never written using pen and paper before? It’s obvious that at least for the foreseeable future, handwriting is here to stay.
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