Why do we still insist on schoolchildren using pencils and jotters?

January 23, 2017 by Will Peakin
Why do we still insist on schoolchildren using pencils and jotters?

'The idea that handwriting must be immaculate is no longer relevant'

A representative of Scotland’s leading teaching union has questioned the place of handwriting in the modern curriculum.

Susan Quinn, EIS education convenor, told the Herald: “You need to look at the balance of the curriculum and give appropriate time to skills that are needed. I don’t think it’s appropriate to give as much emphasis on handwriting as schools did in the past.

“The idea that handwriting must be immaculate is no longer relevant. What is the relevance of beautiful copperplate? That is more about artwork. Is it vital to do that to write a quality report or piece of creative writing? GPs’ handwriting is the worst and it doesn’t mean they are bad doctors.

“Handwriting is a skill that supports other aspects of working and in the early stages of schooling it has a place on the curriculum as it helps children understand the formation of letters and is part of learning phonics.

“Most young people will present their work in digital form, although work for qualifications is still handwritten. Some schools are getting the balance right between old and new skills but not all of them.

“We have modern technology in the form of laptops and tablets and the technology has been around for 20 years, but schoolchildren continue to write with pencils and jotters.”

However, Duncan Tolmie, a calligraphy lecturer at City of Glasgow College, mourned the demise of handwriting in schools and called for calligraphy to be taught to children in order to rekindle a lost art.

“Keyboards have taken over and handwriting is not taught as well or as much as it used to be,” he said.

“Because of the prevalence of phones and texting, children see handwriting as a chore. But in my experience they are fascinated when they see calligraphy – they love the flourishes and thick and thin strokes and take to it with a natural ability.”

Tolmie’s view would most likely have been supported by Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs, who once described the moment he dropped out of college: “I decided to take a calligraphy class.

“I learned about serif and sans serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great.

“It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

“None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But 10 years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography.”