Sydney, July 28 : Over 150,000 students in years 11 and 12 at schools across North South Wales (NSW) reportedly need to relearn the art of using a pen and paper quickly, a skill they have lost after years of using computers, laptops, and mobiles.
Sue Marks, a senior English teacher at Barker College on the North Shore, has revealed that remedial classes are being held to get students' handwriting legible enough for Higher School Certificate examiners to read.
Dr. John Vallance, the headmaster of Sydney Grammar School, says that typed essays will not be accepted in the later years of high school.
He says that the school places a very strong emphasis on ensuring every student can write legibly.
"Handwriting is an important expression of a student's personality, which is certainly not demonstrable through keyboarding. It's a skill this generation should not lose," the Sydney Morning Herald quoted Vallance as saying.
John Bennett, the general manager of the NSW Board of Studies that supervises the curriculum in schools, has revealed that they are not looking for any wholesale conversion from the use of pen to the use of keyboards, and "e-assessment" of exams.
"It is unlikely computers would be suitable for exams in all subjects, but we anticipate that in five years we will see computers used for some parts of some exams," he said.
He says that the board has certain questions before it like whether such a change would be fair when some students from poorer households did not have easy access to computers; and whether such a system would be cheating-proof.
Educators are also concerned about the onslaught of technology-driven methods on the very process of learning and thinking amongst young people.
Barker's Dr Marks said: "The process of writing - whether it be by hand, or on a computer keyboard - is closely connected with the process of thinking. Research points to the fact that thoughts are generated, not merely recorded, through the process of writing. So my fear, in relation to the rise of abbreviated forms adopted by many when emailing, text messaging and instant messaging, is that the capacity for deep thinking, fostered through writing, will be eroded."
She said that it was not that writing using such technologies was inherently detrimental to deep thought.
"In my view, as society becomes more and more dependent upon technology, it will become increasingly important for clear and cohesive writing to be taught in schools," she said.
"If this is not the case we run the risk of students' writing - and thinking - reflecting their text-messaging practices and becoming little more than a series of truncated ideas. Many of today's students are quite capable of sophisticated thought, but as grab-bites become the norm in modern communication technologies, it is vital that the skills involved in producing thoughtful, developed compositions, reflective of higher order thinking, are fostered in our schools," she added.
Roslyn Arnold, an honorary professor of education and social work at the University of Sydney whose original PhD was on school children's writing development, says while keyboarding does not necessarily have a detrimental effect on writing, just focusing on the speed of communicating may rob a student of the opportunity of deep reflective composing.
Students themselves are ambivalent about the issue.
"Your hand starts to kill after a while in exams," says Marianthe Varipatis of Hurstville, a year 11 student at Bethany College.
"I'm so used to writing in exams, but it would be good if something like that (computer-based exams) came up," she adds.