Centuries of teaching children to write, their careful attempts to form intelligible letters with a pen or pencil, may be coming to an end according to one expert.
Keith Wymer, Managing Director of Holborn Training claims his own observation of his 4-year old and her friends points to the demise of the skill.
“While the kids struggle to form characters on the page, they seem to have no trouble in using a mouse and performing rudimentary entries with a keyboard. And when you look at older kids, with their amazing texting skills, you wonder how long the written word has left – not long, in my opinion.”
“When you think about it, written communication is always evolving and there is no reason why the pen and paper shouldn’t give way to typing skills. After all, I learnt my ABC’s in the early 1960’s using a small slate and chalk. How ridiculous does that sound today? Who says we need to keep writing by hand when typing on a computer keyboard is easier and faster?”
Wymer also claims that the uptake of typing courses at his Pitman Training centres in London and Manchester is increasing all the time as a result of the changes in working practises.
He argues that few people nowadays need to write more than their names while they all need to enter data onto computers.
But there is also an argument that people, and children in particular, need to learn to write as means of developing motor skills and to encourage them to think about how they communicate.
Some feel that the development of vocabulary and spelling is linked to the outpouring of thoughts on paper.
Wymer disagrees. “In terms of vocabulary and spelling development, I believe these are the result of reading and I can’t see how you can say the pen and paper is superior to excellent computer keyboard skills. In fact I believe schools should offer a typing course to every child and concentrate less on writing.”
These rather strong views ignore, however, the development of handwriting recognition systems for computers where users employ a pen or stylus to write on a screen, the input being converted to standard fonts by the computer. These are frequently used by delivery workers and on-site engineers.
“These systems haven’t really caught on except in deliveries and where signatures are required.” claims Wymer.
“I don’t think they will ever expand outside those fields because most workers are deskbound and are more likely to use a keyboard than a stylus or pen and paper. And the rise of smart phone technology will probably kill those systems off. I think the main argument against learning to type in the next 20 years will be from voice recognition systems. As soon as they get those working properly, even the use of the keyboard will begin to decline. But for now, I’d say you’re better off investing in typing courses than handwriting.”
While not everyone will take as extreme a view as Wymer, he provides food for thought.
Society needs to determine whether handwriting is still a necessary skill and whether we persist in using it for the comfort of hanging onto something we know and love.
And one final point ignored by Wymer, is that everyone’s handwriting is different, a tangible identity if you will, perhaps a statement of self. Are we ready yet to give that up in favour of the homogeneity of the typed word?
This author, for one, is not.