Educators around the world are worried about the decline in students' handwriting. A recent article in the UK press can be found here. The rapid growth of digital media to record text is seemingly unstoppable. Many examination boards are looking at going online rather than continuing with the traditional pen and paper test in an exam hall.
In my own areas of interest, English language and literature, language testing in particular has been on the IT radar for some time. The Pearson Test of English (PTE) is considered a real alternative to IELTS and TOEFL, and for a while, we considered using it at KYUEM. Its main advantage is the speed of getting results (around two business days or fewer) while the fact that a computer is marking most of the content, reduces the potential negative subjectivity of a human assessor. By the way, the reason we didn't pursue things with PTE was nothing to do with the test itself. It was simply a matter of the UK government not recognising it for visa purposes.
Twenty or even ten years ago, it was quite possible to exist and indeed to thrive, while being computer illiterate. I recall a teacher, with whom I worked in the Middle East a couple of decades ago, proudly holding aloft his ancient fountain pen and announcing to us all: "This is my word processor!" I doubt he'd be able to get away with such a sentiment today. Computer literacy is an essential requirement of modern life and the ubiquitous mobile phone, with its reliance on such tools as WhatsApp is the equivalent of a latter day ball-point pen.
Traditionalists worry about the decline in literary standards resulting from the use of Twitter et al. They forget that in the past we happily used truncated utterances in telegrams. Even today, the strange convention of reducing text to its barest form exists in newspaper headlines, such as this from today's Daily Telegraph:
BREXIT BULLETIN EXCLUSIVE
I'm sure this would make very little sense to a reader of ten or even five years ago.
I remain optimistic that quality written language will survive; there will always be a need for precise, well-crafted prose. My concern is the physical means of transcribing thoughts and speech. Is handwriting an endangered species and will Mont Blanc, Cross and Parker one day soon be seen as the graphological equivalents of Tyrannosaurus Rex, Diplodocus and the Pterodactyl?
Like many teachers, my own handwriting is pretty terrible; I write better on a chalk or whiteboard than I do with a pen on paper. My uncle was a highly regarded confectioner who could produce perfect copper plate script with an icing sugar bag on top of a wedding cake, but whose actual handwriting was dire. I would hate to see handwriting wither away. They used to say years ago that with the exponential growth of sophisticated calculators, there was no longer any need to learn multiplication tables, yet we still encourage kids to do so. Hopefully, there will always be a similar need for handwritten text.
For now at least, KYUEM students need to be able to write their answers on paper in AS and A2 examinations. Just like in my day, I see them emerging from the exam room massaging their fingers after two or more hours of intensive handwriting. Maybe it's actually harder for them today because unlike my generation, they lack the daily practice of physically writing things down. It's yet another good reason for making them do trial examinations, which is a good way for me to finish today. Next week we are on our mid-semester break, after which mock exams will be taken from March 26 until the end of the first week in April. So, I wish you a pleasant week with your sons and daughters. Send them back to us ready to do plenty of handwriting! I wish them all every success.