Shanghai’s paperless homework will affect student handwriting
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.