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A good hand?

After the Queen told Alex Salmond that he had ‘the worst writing of any of my ministers’, he changed his signature so that it was more legible when he put his name to bills. Nicola Sturgeon’s handwriting has yet to excite any comment but looking at her, the adjectives small, neat and clear come to mind so perhaps the new First Minister’s signature will be spared one of Her Majesty’s old fashioned looks. 

From perfect copperplate (the Queen’s style) to the clichéd doctor’s scrawl, it’s tempting to link handwriting to personality or even ability, but there is no scientific evidence of a direct connection between handwriting and performance. If a job advert asks for a handwritten covering letter it’s probably to check that the applicant’s grasp of the language in question matches their fluency on the typed CV or application form. Circles instead of dots over the letter ‘i’ may also guarantee a one-way ticket to the rejection pile.

Take a tablet

More and more schools are providing pupils with tablets – or allowing them to use their own in lessons – and parents worry that this could diminish dexterity with pen and paper. Considering that school entrance tests, GCSE, A level and university examinations all require candidates to write their answers (dyslexic students or those with other needs may use laptops), these concerns are not unfounded. Students taking essay subjects such as English or history may write 20 pages or more in an A level or university exam – the thought of it is enough to give anyone writer’s cramp!

Poor handwriting costs marks in exams and slow writers may underperform. The Good Schools Guide Educational Consultants has heard of instances where children from other countries are so unaccustomed to writing by hand that they are physically unable to complete a timed test such as the 13 + common entrance examination. Graphologist Margaret White (www.graphocentric.co.uk) puts the emphasis on ‘clear’ rather than ‘good’ handwriting and suggests that 15 minutes’ writing practice a day ‘improves the muscles and nerves of the forearm’. 

Less paper or paperless?

So is technology friend or foe? That depends, unless you are a tree in which case the answer is definitely ‘friend’. On the other hand if you’re a keyboard things are looking less rosy. Ever improving styluses and note taking programmes make writing on a tablet comparable to pen and paper but with the added advantage that vital scribbles are less likely to be lost. Tablets can be used to import and annotate PDF files and pupils can photograph science experiments (for instance) and incorporate these into their work. Students use tablets to take notes in lectures and the technology is increasingly popular in business, making meetings much more interactive than a room of people two-finger typing notes on laptop keyboards. 

Creative use of tools such as smartboards and tablets can add enormously to pupils’ engagement with a topic and schools have been quick to incorporate technology into the classroom. The downside can be time can be wasted sorting out problems – how likely is it that 20 or more iPads will all start up and work perfectly? This is nothing new - hands up who remembers geography teachers battling with the projector?

A century ago there were three or four postal deliveries a day and you could write and send a postcard inviting someone to tea the same afternoon. Email now does this for us, making the receipt of a handwritten card or letter a rare joy (unlike their supposed successors, the ‘e-card’). Despite predictions, e-readers haven’t murdered books and likewise technology has some way to go before it challenges the elegant simplicity of pen and paper.

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