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Should we be using keyboards or still learning to handwrite?

When I was approached by BBC Radio 5 Live to do an interview based on the story that Finland will stop teaching handwriting in 2016 and replace with keyboarding skills, I was horrified that this is what they were planning to do. Even though I note that the intention is to replace handwriting, which is a fine motor skill, with other fine motor skills like sewing; the fact that they have not looked at what else handwriting can do and the research behind it is extraordinary.

Historical figure of a bronze statue

Historical figure of a bronze statue

There is a lot of research proving handwriting is important

Psychological Scientist, Pam Mueller published her findings in Psychological Science. She found that taking notes by hand was better than taking notes on a laptop for remembering conceptual information over the long term. What this actually meant was that students taking notes by hand had a far better recall and ability to translate that information into usage than those students using keyboards for their note taking.

Handwriting has been accepted for hundreds of years as giving insight into people, their emotions, and indeed expressing their whole life. In AD 120, the philosopher Suetonius Tranquillus described the writing of Emperor Octavious Augustus.   The first treatise on the relation between handwriting and personality was actually published by Camillo Baldi, a doctor and professor in the University of Bologna in 1622.   He wrote “it is obvious that all persons write in their own peculiar way and that in private letters everybody uses such characteristic forms as cannot be truly imitated by anybody else.” This means that handwriting is an expression of who we are.


Have you ever written a journal or diary?

(Image from Clark University, MA, USA)

Dr. Goddard diary entry for March 16, 1926; the day he launched the first liquid fuelled rocket

Dr. Goddard diary entry for March 16, 1926; the day he launched the first liquid fuelled rocket

So much of our past history is stored in handwritten journals. Unless our children continue to learn “joined-up” handwriting they will never be able to understand the stories and lives of their forefathers. Much of this information has not been digitally recorded; I do not wish to go into fonts here and will save that for a later article but unless people are taught to read and handwrite so much will be lost to them.

James W Pennebaker and Janel D Seagal from the University of Texas in Austin found that handwriting about important personal experiences in an emotional way for as little as 15 minutes over 3 days brought about improvements in mental and physical health.   Many psychotherapists now recommend keeping a handwritten journal for their clients to monitor feelings and experiences personally. Once an event has been handwritten and recorded, it no longer has an effect of looming as large in our lives, it can be de-emotionalised. The findings highlighted an increased understanding and effected change in the clients’ lives.


Choice is still available to us

We still have the ability to make choices and to look at handwriting as something that is still relevant in our lives. After all, I understand that one of the main diagnoses for Parkinson’s Disease is still known as micrographia. When a person begins to suffer with this dreadful disease, their handwriting becomes condensed in size – this research was carried out worldwide by a number of eminent professors and also included other neurological disorders where handwriting changes as a result of contracting the illness.  Keyboarding skills will never be able to help people express themselves fully, learn easier or identify illness. Why would we go back in time and leave handwriting to a learned few.

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