That is the question being asked by Dr Noella Mackenzie, a senior lecturer at Charles Sturt University School of Education. She has just finished conducting a survey called “Handwriting, Keyboarding or Both? That is the Question”. Early results show that while cursive writing is still favoured by retired teachers (82%) and parents (69%), only 58% of current teachers thought students should still be learning cursive writing.
Dr Mackenzie said research from the UK suggests that when handwriting is automatic and efficient it frees up the short-term memory to focus on the message that is under construction: “There is recent research to indicate that even adults have better recall of words written by hand than words written on a tablet or keyboard,” she said. “There are certain cognitive benefits to handwriting which may not be fully retained in keyboard writing.
“Other research suggests that efficient letter writing is the single best predictor of length and quality of written composition in the primary years.”
As part of her research, Dr Mackenzie travelled to Finland, a country renowned for its excellence in teacher education, to find out how handwriting is included in school programs there. "Finland is introducing a new curriculum starting in August which has handwriting instruction only in the first year of school," she said.
"But as an important point of distinction with Australia, it must be stressed that Finnish children start school at age seven, and many can already read and write before they start school having attended two years of government-funded preschool five days per week,” she explained.
In an interview with the Gold Coast Bulletin Dr Mackenzie added that as long as students were taught how to write, she didn’t believe cursive was a crucial skill. “In today’s world as long as students can get their message down clearly and in a way that’s efficient, I don’t think it matters if it’s cursive or printed,” she said.
“I’m more concerned about children in the early years of school being taught well how to form letters by hand.”
The full results of the survey will be published on Dr MacKenzie’s website. See noellamackenzie.com for details.
Read our article on how the use of screens is impacting handwriting ability here.