The digitalization of the school world has meant that Swedish students write less and less with paper and pencil. Now a large number of teachers are warning that many children are writing illegibly – and that the rapid digitalization can have major negative consequences.
2000 teachers responded to a survey by the professional magazine Ämnesläraren (The subject teacher), and almost all of them believe that it is important for students to write by hand in school. However, almost one in five teachers (18.5%) say that their students rarely or never do this.
According to Professor Göran Lundborg of Lund University, author of the book ‘The hand in the digital world’, some teachers may be afraid of appearing ‘backward’ if they require students to write by hand.
– It’s easy to be seen as a nerd if you don’t fully embrace digitalization, says Lundborg.
– You don’t just learn with your brain, but with your whole body; the movements of the hand seem to engrave memory traces in the brain. The very grip of the pencil and the fine motor movements over the paper activate different areas of the brain, he adds.
He says that parents often express concern and complain that children can barely write by hand anymore, that their spelling is poor and that they mostly communicate via very short messages on their cell phones.
– At the same time, it must be noted that children are already gaining early experience of the digital world outside of school and kindergarten. Against this background, it seems more important for schools to focus on handwriting skills.
Barbro Westlund, a teacher trainer and lecturer, says that in her professional life she has encountered a large number of parents and teachers who have complained about their children’s lack of writing skills, and she too believes that it is very important for young people to practise writing by hand.
– I have met so many teachers and parents who have testified about how carelessly children write by hand as they get older. They haven’t had enough practice writing legibly.
– Writing letters with a pen makes it easier for the brain to remember them than pressing keys. But before writing the letters, children can shape them with their bodies or make big hand movements in the air. Playing with letters in different ways is also important for learning to read, she explains.
According to Westlund, her colleagues in Finland believe that Swedish schools are quick to jump on “different trends” – whereas in Finland there is a more negative attitude towards abandoning tried and tested ways of working, which is why digitalization in schools has not been as rapid as in Sweden.