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Can Times New Roman ever be as romantic as handwriting?

PUBLISHED: 14:06 05 November 2018 | UPDATED: 14:06 05 November 2018

Not a laptop in sight in this 2005 exam picture. Picture: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

Not a laptop in sight in this 2005 exam picture. Picture: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

Archant

With more university students writing their exams on lap tops, will the barely legible handwritten paper become a thing of the past? Lynne Mortimer hopes not.

The hand-written letter Henry put into a jar at Southwold. Picture: JAMES COXThe hand-written letter Henry put into a jar at Southwold. Picture: JAMES COX

Is it the end of the road for handwriting?

My O levels, A levels and degree examinations were all written in longhand with my “lucky” Parker fountain pen (not always so lucky, sadly). Even today, I am a big fan of the handwritten missive and only this week I received a thank you letter from my six-year-old grandson, in his own writing. “Dear grandpar and grandmar,” it began, elegantly.

But already, notes of appreciation are beginning to be printed off the computer:

Dear (insert name of gift-giver)

How much more it means to see Horatio, Lord  Nelson's own handwriting. This letter is a part of the Ipswich School archive. Picture: Su AndersonHow much more it means to see Horatio, Lord Nelson's own handwriting. This letter is a part of the Ipswich School archive. Picture: Su Anderson

Thank you so much for the lovely/interesting/fabulous (insert name of item or “money”) you gave me for Christmas/my birthday. I hope you are all well and look forward to seeing you soon, Love from (name and two kisses).”

Likewise with print-out round robin, inserted into the Christmas card: “Hi, we have had a really busy 2018. I have completed my research project - which meant spending six months in Washington DC but it should end with the publication of my third book. We took a couple of months out and toured the Galapagos Islands, which was fascinating. (see print-out picture gallery). We are also expecting our fourth child - it’s a girl - and we have already put her down for Benenden. ... etc etc for two pages of similar puff.

Most of a journalist’s work, apart from the occasional blast of Tee-line shorthand, is written on computer. It is a sophisticated tool. It can correct one’s spelling (unless you mistakenly use a homophone such as a “whole” in the road); it can even do grammar.

One of the reasons that universities have been considering the move, apparently, because students’ handwriting is often illegible.... which is not surprising when the art of handwriting is so badly neglected.

A postcard sent home to Halesworth by Thomas Mudd from the Titanic in 1912. Thomas persished in the disaster. Picture: Lucy TaylorA postcard sent home to Halesworth by Thomas Mudd from the Titanic in 1912. Thomas persished in the disaster. Picture: Lucy Taylor

At the same time, handwriting is a good way to confirm a student’s identity. In exams, it is not easy to pass off a stranger’s work as your own if it is handwritten.

One of the priorities of education today is computer literacy because, as most would agree, it is the future. But it is not the answer to everything.

At Brunel university, which has already introduced digital exams, director of learning Simon Kent, has said: “In the real world, students will have access to spell-checkers in their everyday work, so it is reasonable to allow them to use a spell-checker in the examination. We don’t award degrees for good spelling.”

Pity. Like so many people of my age, I have spent considerable time and effort learning to spell and, call me old fashioned but I like to think accuracy should be a skill not a spell-check.

Other academics have spoken of concerns for the death of handwriting, which is associated with helpring children to learn the alphabet and to better absorb information.

In the meantime, universities including Cambridge, Edinburgh, and Oxford are testing the move.

The National Handwriting Association (www.nha-handwriting.org.uk) is an ardent supporter of handwriting, pointing out how much it is used in daily life for - jotting down a shopping list (yes, there is a “notes” option on smart phones but a scribble is quicker); writing a birthday card; taking down a phone message; completing a form at the bank.

“Time devoted to the teaching and learning of letter formation in the early years will pay off. Legible writing that can be produced comfortably, at speed and with little conscious effort allows a child to attend to the higher-level aspects of writing composition and content. This is important when assessments are based on written work, particularly in time-limited written examinations, which remain as a major form of assessment for many formal qualifications. Without fast and legible handwriting, students may miss out on learning opportunities and under-achieve academically.”

The NHA observes also that many personal computers now have handwriting recognition capability so that handwriting as means of interacting with computers is becoming more common. “It seems, therefore, that even in this modern age, handwriting remains an important skill for communication.”

One of my favourite things is looking at a handwritten envelope and knowing who it is from. The digital world deprives us of so much fun and narrows our breadth of experience... and I would not have one better in my exams with a computer, anyway.

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