Should technology be blamed for bad handwriting?

From the Straits Times

Wired Teens = ‘Ant’ writing

Students don’t see need to improve handwriting because of tech tools but teachers hate it

BLAME technology for ‘ants’ – or what teachers call bad teen handwriting.

The Straits Times collected samples from 186 teens aged 13 to 17, which threw up 52 scripts covered with ‘ants’.

They needed a lot of deciphering, typical of handwriting of the wired generation, said handwriting expert William Pang, 60.

Mr Pang, a handwriting consultant who began studying the science of handwriting analysis in the 1970s, blames this ‘degeneration’ on the lack of focus on penmanship in classrooms.

Students are not taught to grasp the pen properly, he said. ‘Some of them even slump on the table as they write.’

They do not see the need to improve, either. After all, ‘technology helps to make homework neater for students’, Mr Pang pointed out.

Modern practices like downloading notes from the school’s website and submitting typewritten assignments lessen the need for legible handwriting.

Teachers, who have to wade through an average of 100 to 200 scripts each week, say they especially hate the type of handwriting they call ‘ants’.

‘The tiny, ant-size writing makes it difficult for teachers to read what is written,’ lamented Mrs Kang Yeok Lung, 59, a senior teacher at St Andrew’s Junior College.

She has been a teacher for 27 years, and points out: ‘When students write like that, they don’t realise that the teacher’s eyesight is affected and it makes marking a chore.’

The cure?

‘I think assignments should be handwritten and not sent to the teacher as an e-mail attachment,’ Mrs Kang said.

After all, when teachers have to guess what students write, she added, ‘the student loses out‘.

Especially during examinations, when essays are still handwritten, it can cost them grades. When markers cannot understand the scripts, ‘there is a higher risk of misinterpretation’.

Augustus Set, 17, a second-year student at St Andrew’s Junior College, said his parents feared his bad writing so much, they bought him handwriting practice books, ‘so that I can write more legibly for my A level examinations’.

Still, other students are recalcitrant – they say they are expressing themselves.

Said Sayyed Amir Zaini, 16, a Secondary 4 student at Pasir Ris Secondary School: ‘I tried to change my handwriting but I just can’t. Anyway, I don’t think I should change it just because others say so. I will change my handwriting only because I want to.’

Handwriting in the 1970s was of a better quality, said Mr Pang, who was then studying close to 300 handwriting samples as an amateur analyst. Tidier scripts showed that Singaporeans were more patient and considerate then.

‘People were in less of a rush,’ he said. ‘They took more pains with their handwriting and the letters were more well-formed… to ensure others could read what they had written.’

The Straits Times’ survey, on the other hand, revealed that many of the wired generation are disconnected, individualistic, more rebellious and non-conformist than their predecessors.

Mr Pang believes that teens will change their handwriting as they grow older ‘to create their own identity’.

But that might not be for the better, he warned: ‘A person’s handwriting is likely to get worse with age if at work, he types more than he writes.’

I thought it is quite a controversial report, especially the three bold statements.

My questions:

  1. Must we go back to the good old days when handwritten work prevailed to improve pupils’ handwriting?
  2. Who will lose out more if all works are handwritten?
  3. Handwriting or digital literacy, which is more important?
  4. Should technology take the FULL blame for bad handwriting?
  5. What evidence in the survey has shown many of the wired generation are disconnected, individualistic, more rebellious and non-conformist than their predecessors???


  1. Taylor

    I have bad handwriting due to a neurological disorder, NOT because I type up some of my essays on a computer.

  2. Scott McLeod

    Thanks for the link over from my blog! This is hysterical, particularly this quote:

    ‘I think assignments should be handwritten and not sent to the teacher as an e-mail attachment.’

    Uh, yeah. How about “I think assignments should be carved in stone. This ‘paper’ stuff is too fragile and the ink runs if it gets wet. Students’ stone-carving ability these days is atrocious! Do you know how hard it is to read their carvings?”

  3. tucksoon

    Hi Scott,

    Thanks for dropping by! Your blog is really insightful and I love your style!

    I think the struggle between handwriting and technology is another classic example of change management in education transformation. Your posting/comments on this issue have reinforced the validity of my questions stated above.

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