If you are able to read and write cursive handwriting, then you are part of a dying breed that prides itself on the perfect loops and slants your pen creates. Sometime over the last two decades, a majority of schools abandoned the zealous pursuit of children pushing towards cursive, something which was the norm till the 90s.
Almost all schools now follow the philosophy of letting the child learn whatever is easy for them. So, while neither style of handwriting is mandatory, the preference is clearly towards script/print.
“It’s easier for students to read because that’s how they see that font in books,” said senior academic Shilpee Ganguly. “Ultimately, this helps them to learn and identify characters faster.”
Parvati Iyer, another senior academic, said, “In pre-primary level, the focus now is on play-way method so that learning concepts is easier. Whereas learning cursive handwriting requires the rotate-learning methodology, which contradicts the joyful learning method.”
Lucky Sadrani, part of the new generation of principals moving into leadership roles, feels that print writing is more aligned to the emerging future trends. “Students look up educational content in either books or online. At both places it is print font. So the grasping of content is faster. Also after finishing graduation, there is hardly a profession left which requires a lot of writing work. It’s all typing, and that again, is in print font,” said Sadrani.
The almost two-decade long gentle nudge away from cursive handwriting, is now visible at the postgraduate level. Supantha Bhattacharya, who teaches English to senior students, said, “Very few answer sheets, probably around 15%, are now in cursive handwriting.”
John Landge, who retired a few years ago after teaching English for nearly three decades at a city college, said, “Cursive handwriting is almost gone now. Even when I was teaching they would take down notes in print/script, and were quite fast.”
There’s no extra brownie points from the evaluators for writing in cursive.
Mahesh Karajgaonkar, former state board divisional chairman, said, “Marks are given for clean and legible handwriting, not for font. Cursive handwriting is about not lifting the pen till that word is complete, something like the Modi script. So, the letter placing was compact which made spelling errors rare. As a board, we never made cursive mandatory.”
Psychiatrists say it may actually be a wise thing to ‘let children be’. Senior psychiatrist Dr Shailesh Pangaonkar said “Humans are the only species which have the gift of writing. There is a small area in the left side of the brain which is responsible for this, and cursive handwriting is more like graphics. There are people who may not be predisposed towards it, so it is better to give kids a freehand to practice whatever it is that makes learning easier.”
Cursive is not very easy to learn after a certain age. Taranum Khan, who runs an institute which teaches cursive handwriting, said, “Students that we get are mostly the young ones. You have to practice the strokes repeatedly to grasp this beautiful skill. As they move to high school level, there isn’t enough time available to learn new skills.”
As cursive moves from ‘handwriting’ to a dying art there are some who are trying to hold the fort. They believe cursive is an art worth saving.
Shahnoor Mirza, a senior academic, said, “For me, handwriting is everything. It’s not something that you create on paper, rather it is something that shows your character. When we were in school people would take pride in their handwriting, awards were given and it was something to gloat about. I recently held a writing competition for my students and will now do the same for teachers.”
Mirza and a few others might be fighting a losing battle. Even teaching it at school level may not be enough to save this vanguard of the pre-90s era, as some have found out.
Sister Pramita, who heads the primary section of a convent school, said, “We do teach kids cursive handwriting at a young age. But for many as they move towards high school and junior college, the writing style does undergo change as students gain speed in print writing. It turns into some hybrid of print-cursive and then slowly, into print.”
Vandana Benjamin, who has two separate doctorates in English language and education and now heads a teacher-training college said, “Just like dinosaurs disappeared, in another two decades people who can read and write cursive shall be gone. Sooner or later we will end up having teachers who cannot read cursive, so how will they evaluate an answersheet if even one student writes it?”
She adds that cursive will soon become a ‘hobby’. “It will be like calligraphy, something you indulge in during free time but never during exams. Maybe it’s time for us to accept that and move on,” said Benjamin.