For long, Finland has been held out as a role model for education systems across the world. A recent move by the country’s education board, however, seems to be a clear step in the wrong direction. The education board of Finland announced its decision to remove cursive writing from the curriculum and replaced it with lessons in keyboard typing. The spokesperson of the Board is reported to have said, “Fluent typing skills are an important national competence.”
The fundamental problem with this decision is that the choice of what children should be doing when they are 7-9 years old is being equated with what they are likely to be doing when they become adults. It completely ignores the enormously constructive and extremely critical role played by cursive writing (in fact, writing in general) in the process of education.
Writing is an important pathway to learning. When children write, they literally experience letters and words. Writing is also a creative exercise. The child creates on her own writing surface the very shape that an adult created for her. In doing so, the child emotionally and spiritually engages with the shapes she is creating through her fingers. Thus, the very movements involved in writing enable the child to truly internalise the letters and words she is experiencing and creating.
Writing is also a slow process. In fact, it is a process that proceeds at the child’s own pace because it is after all his fingers that move at his command. Thus, it is a process that automatically adjusts to the pace of learning of each child. If we agree that pushing a child beyond his natural pace of learning adversely affects the learning process, eliminating writing from the curriculum, which does precisely that, must be seen as a retrogressive step.
Writing is also an act of will. When done in a joyful manner, the child is an active participant in the creation of the written text. It thus allows for the evolution of the child’s free will and leaves the door open for the child to develop into a freethinker later on in life.
One fundamental problem with the replacement of writing with typing is that the child’s pathway to learning is being severely restricted to the sense of sight alone. Clearly, this is too much to expect from children who learn through multiple senses and pathways. In these days when the theory of multiple intelligences is being recognised as real and very useful, it is indeed strange to see this giant step backwards towards a single pathway to learning.
A common counter argument is that one would use educational aids to enable children to trace shapes with their fingers. This is clearly far inferior to the creative, will-force driven, participative, slow process of writing. First, it is unidirectional – sensory impulses from the outside world pass through the senses to be processed by the child’s cognitive faculties into “knowledge”. Second, it also raises the cost of education when the educational establishment has to have many sets of these traceable letters to allow for many children to engage in the same activity simultaneously. In comparison, all it takes to write is sheets of paper and pencils.
Finally, the decision reflects a deep error – that the purpose of education is to ensure that children have the skills required by the real world. Before you baulk at this and ask what else could be purpose of education, just ponder over the following questions and I am sure the short-sightedness of the decision would become apparent to you too.
- How do we know that typing will still be important when today’s child of 7 turns 21?
- What if voice recognition software makes typing redundant?
- Would we not have wasted precious educational time in imparting a useless ‘skill’?”
Clearly, none of us has a crystal ball that enables us to look into the future and know today the skills that children would need when they grow up. Education is also not just a process of building various skills. It is about the evolution of each child into a freethinking adult capable of shaping his/her life through his/her own choices and actions. Looking at the skills that have become more “relevant” in today’s world and replacing timeless tools of learning with these short-term fads is clearly an unwise decision that needs to be reversed at the earliest.