Handwriting is not important

Fact check : Do we need handwriting in the digital world?

School portal: The debate about learning to write handwriting in elementary school continues to excite people. What prompted you to do the fact check “Handwriting in the digitized world”?
Michael Becker-Mrotzek: I am not surprised that the topic is repeatedly discussed vigorously. After all, learning to read and write is a central task in primary school. However, there are different approaches to font acquisition in the federal states, and this regularly leads to debates as the new year starts school as to which font children should learn best in the first grades. In addition, in the course of digitization, children often have their first experience of writing on the keyboard before starting school. This approach is much easier because it works even without a pronounced fine motor skills. This raises the question of whether handwriting is still needed at all.

What does science say about it? How important is handwriting actually when purchasing fonts?
By writing by hand, you can see how each letter is created. This activates more neural networks than typing on a keyboard. The shapes of the letters are thus better memorized by the handwriting. While writing with the keyboard is easier because the person writing only has to press one key, writing by hand is more sustainable for learning to write. And there is another very decisive advantage: hardly any technical aids are required for writing by hand. It can be done practically anywhere, be it with a stick in the sand or with a pen on a beer mat. That is why we will continue to need handwriting in everyday life in the foreseeable future.

Is it true that handwriting increases the ability to remember?
The research situation on this is not clear. Obviously, it depends on how well you master the handwriting. If you find it difficult to take notes quickly by hand, you will not be able to process what you have heard so well if you have to concentrate on writing at the same time. In this case, typing with the keyboard would be cheaper. For dyslexics, for example, typing on the keyboard can be of great benefit. But if you can write quickly without having to concentrate on the spelling, you will be better able to select and grasp the essentials while taking notes by hand.

Do we still need standardized cursive script for this, or is it sufficient to learn a printed script?
The written form makes no difference. It's like asking if you can learn to swim better with red or blue armbands. Cursive handwriting is no more fluid than printed handwriting, as is often claimed. In cursive writing, the connections between the letters are made on paper; in printing, in the air - that's the whole difference.

The written form makes no difference. It's like asking if you can learn to swim better with red or blue armbands.

But isn't cursive handwriting crucial for developing a personal handwriting that is then also legible?
There are no reliable studies that show that cursive handwriting is necessary to develop a personal handwriting. The fluency in writing is particularly important when developing personal handwriting. For this it is necessary that students often have the opportunity to write by hand. A large vocabulary is also an advantage. If you don't have to search for the right word for a long time, you can put your thoughts on paper more quickly. There are good exercises for this, for example describing pictures. Exercises for writing quickly and legibly are also good for partner work. It is important that the students continue this fluid training in the higher grades after the start of school. Which source font you use is completely irrelevant.

Do you think that in the future the cultural technique of handwriting will be replaced by typing with the keyboard? And how should the school react to this?
I don't think that handwriting will disappear in the course of digitization. We didn't stop talking just because writing was invented. There will always be moments when it is easier to write something down by hand than with a keyboard. Not every message is transmitted digitally. Of course, typing with the keyboard also has its advantages. It is therefore important that students start learning it early on in primary school. The schools must be appropriately equipped for this. Typing with the keyboard offers enormous advantages, especially for inclusion, for example for children with motor difficulties.