Shang­hai’s paper­less home­work will af­fect stu­dent hand­writ­ing

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Zhang Yu Page Ed­i­tor: chen­[email protected]­al­times.com.cn

Agrowing num­ber of pri­mary schools in Shang­hai are now pro­mot­ing “paper­less” home­work. In­stead of writ­ing with a pen, chil­dren can fin­ish their home­work sim­ply by “swip­ing and typ­ing” on their iPad screens.

Many par­ents, stu­dents and ed­u­ca­tional ex­perts ap­plaud the in­no­va­tive use of this new tech­nol­ogy in Shang­hai’s lo­cal schools. And it isn’t dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand why dig­i­tal home­work could be the next big thing in Chi­nese ed­u­ca­tion: it re­duces waste, makes it eas­ier for teach­ers to col­lect home­work and cal­cu­late scores, and, hon­estly, it’s only nat­u­ral that, now that ev­ery­thing else in China is dig­i­tal­ized and dig­i­tized, home­work should too.

But there’s an over­looked down­side to on­line home­work, as it high­lights an alarm­ing trend: how tech­nol­ogy is impacting and en­croach­ing on phys­i­cal hand­writ­ing.

In to­day’s dig­i­tal age, hand­writ­ing is al­ready a de­clin­ing skill. Can you re­mem­ber the last time you used a pen? For me, it was when I had to fill out a form for a re­im­burse­ment at work; to be hon­est, I stum­bled on quite a few char­ac­ters and had to type them on my iPhone to re­mind me of their strokes.

I know I’m not alone. Ear­lier this month, Xu Kai, a pop­u­lar 23-yearold ac­tor, em­bar­rassed him­self when a fan up­loaded his au­to­graph onto so­cial me­dia; Xu had mis­wrote two sim­ple char­ac­ters. But ne­ti­zens were le­nient with him, say­ing they share sim­i­lar em­bar­rass­ments when asked to write by hand.

In a time when com­put­ers, smart phones and key­boards are dom­i­nat­ing the world, is hand­writ­ing even im­por­tant? For me, the an­swer is a def­i­nite yes. Firstly, ac­cord­ing to ex­perts, hand­writ­ing plays an im­por­tant role in the learn­ing process. Writ­ing a char­ac­ter is a more com­plex and de­mand­ing cog­ni­tive process than typ­ing, re­quir­ing ac­tive co­or­di­na­tion of mus­cles and mind.

So you can imag­ine that, for school-age chil­dren, writ­ing not only al­lows them to mem­o­rize char­ac­ters, but also trains their brain the way typ­ing can’t. Writ­ing also re­quires a child to sit prop­erly in the right pos­ture in front of a desk to con­cen­trate on what he’s work­ing on.

For me, this is es­sen­tial, as I see too many Chi­nese chil­dren, ad­dicted to tech­nol­ogy, slouch­ing in a sofa or ly­ing in bed with their smart­phones or tablets – a rarely men­tioned side ef­fect of mod­ern tech­nol­ogy that may lead to phys­i­cal prob­lems later. The third rea­son is a prac­ti­cal one. In China, all of our im­por­tant tests, in­clud­ing the high school en­trance ex­am­i­na­tion and the na­tional col­lege en­trance exam, re­quire stu­dents to an­swer by hand. Nice, clean hand­writ­ing al­ways leaves a good im­pres­sion on the reader. If a stu­dent is more ac­cus­tomed to typ­ing and swip­ing, he will prob­a­bly have a dif­fi­cult time writ­ing by hand, as hand­writ­ing is per­ma­nent in these tests and can’t be edited. All said, I’m not say­ing that on­line home­work should be can­celed. Dig­i­tal­iza­tion is an un­stop­pable trend. But for cour­ses such as Chi­nese and English lan­guage, I hope to see dig­i­tal home­work in­tro­duced later into the cur­ricu­lum, at least af­ter chil­dren have laid a solid foun­da­tion for writ­ing char­ac­ters and spell­ing words.

The opin­ions ex­pressed in this ar­ti­cle are the au­thor’s own and do not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect the views of the Global Times.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Chen Xia/GT

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