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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 July, 2003, 11:22 GMT 12:22 UK
Learning to write without pencils
Children playing with computer
Computers - next natural writing tools?
Six year olds in Norway are learning to write and read using keyboards and computers, rather than pencils and books.

Eighteen elementary schools in Bergen have moved away from handwriting training in the early school years.

This could mean the death of handwriting lessons in schools within a decade or two, according to the man behind the project, Arne Trageton, associate professor in education at Stord/Haugesund College.

It is a splendid example of learning by playing
Vidar Aarhus
"I am not opposed to handwriting as such", he told BBC News Online, "but if you look at the world outside schools today, hardly anyone writes by hand any more."

'Technical difficulties' avoided

Instruction in cursive handwriting is postponed until the age of eight, when it is taught in a fraction of the time normally spent on the subject.

The time saved is spent letting children produce their own books and even newspapers, improving the content of their writing and their critical thinking skills.

On the project website the director of Tysvaer school district, Vidar Aarhus, calls it "a splendid example of learning by playing".

Children's drawing with printout of description
Pictures and text are combined, making words easier to remember

He thinks pupils become better writers when the "technical difficulties" of handwriting are avoided so they master it more easily.

Children in PC classes have been found by independent experts to write better content than their hand-writing counterparts.

But the now-completed pilot project had its critics. Swedish lecturer Lennart Winnberg from the University of Goteborg told Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten that beautiful handwriting "results from the maturing of personality", and that depriving children of it was developmentally wrong.

Prof Trageton believes personality can be expressed as well through drawing as through handwriting.

He also said that by using keyboards, children were taught to use all 10 fingers, rather than "three fingers on the right hand".

Handwriting 'will survive'

Schools all over Norway are already involved in the project, and interest has been expressed by Icelandic, Latvian and Bulgarian schools, among others.

Advantages of PC text creation
Easier for children with impaired motor skills
Easy to read writing and make corrections
Positive experience of “mastering” writing

Source: Bergen City Project website
The programme encourages use of second hand computers without expensive software, to minimise costs and impact on the enviroment.

"Handwriting will always survive as a craft for special occasions, like calligraphy, for instance," Trageton said.

"This method simply allows children to become active producers of material at an early stage, rather than passive consumers."

  • In the UK, where there has been massive investment in computers in schools, a company called Keywise produces a game intended to develop children's key recognition and typing skills.

    It makes great claims for the Keyboard Crazy game's potential to enthuse young children and develop their wider literacy skills.

    The game is being evaluated by a number of education authorities.

    Photos reproduced with kind permission of Robert Rastad, director of information, City of Bergen.

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