• Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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There’s more to writing by hand: The role of handwriting in cognitive development and academic success

By Adeyemi Ojo

For several decades, the simple yet transformative act of writing by hand has been the backbone of many learning experiences — from students taking on the rudiments of applied chemistry to toddlers learning the curves and swirls of the alphabet and college students familiarizing themselves with the principles guiding different professions.

As such it is essential to examine the overlooked, yet profound impact of handwriting on pupils’ development. Research spanning decades substantiates a theory that is quietly powerful yet not widely acknowledged: success starts with the simple act of writing by hand.

A paper published in the International Journal of Education and Literacy Studies on “Handwriting: Developing Pupils’ Identity and Cognitive Skills” buttresses this fact, revealing that handwriting is directly related to academic achievement.

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This is because writing by hand helps preliterate children recognize letters and in turn helps with reading and assimilation — a prerequisite to attaining the knowledge and skill required to thrive in every profession.

This connection between writing and assimilation, as revealed in the same research, played a pivotal role in literacy challenges faced by many nations at the time, where adults struggled with below-functional literacy skills, hindering their ability to decipher complex questions and impeding their development in Bloom’s taxonomy of Education.

This also underscores the crucial role of handwriting in cultivating advanced reading skills. Clearly, writing has been proven to be a crucial building block for academic and career success, and some studies even report that quite often failure to attain handwriting competency during the school-age years has negative effects on both academic success and self-esteem.

Despite the evident importance of this skill, there are heaps of evidence of its early relegation from school curriculums. In 2014, for instance, Finland announced that it would be phasing out handwriting classes for typing classes.

The rationale for this development, according to Minna Harmanen from the country’s National Board of Education, was that “fluent typing skills are an important national competence in the digital age.”

Interestingly, this stance negates the tenets of childhood development as a paper published in the Journal of Early Childhood Literacy on “Handwriting in Early Childhood Education” proves that writing by hand engages the prefrontal cortex of the brain — the portion of the brain that houses elements of self-regulation and executive function.

The case for handwriting gains further strength as studies demonstrate its impact on a child’s brain regions recognized as the ‘reading circuit.’ Brain scans reveal that only the act of handwriting a letter activates all three crucial areas associated with reading and writing, making it a holistic exercise for brain development.

Evidently, handwriting contributes to the advancement of not just reading skills in young children but has an all-round impact on a child’s development. Similarly, it contributes to the strengthening of functional literacy skills in teenagers and adults.

Little wonder the Handwriting Association of Nigeria and Diaspora, in 2019, “called on the government and all policymakers to make handwriting a core subject in the educational curriculum”.

In line with this, many organisations and governments have recognized the multifaceted benefits of handwriting in bolstering cognitive development and self-expression amongst students, and are working hard to ensure that this simple, but transformative act is preserved.

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Amongst these organizations, BIC, a world-leading manufacturer of stationery, leads the charge. Year after year, at BIC, we undertake initiatives aimed at championing the preservation of handwriting, and its relationship with artistic, and cognitive development, as well as self-expression.

This is linked to our global education commitment to improve learning conditions for 250M students by 2025, as well as our sustainable development program, Writing the Future Together.

In line with this, our commitment to educational development spans a comprehensive 360-degree approach, starting from the crucial early childhood stage. We recognize the importance of nurturing handwriting skills, which serve as the foundation for academic success and prosperous futures.

Through initiatives like Global Education Week and Back to School, we equip children with essential writing tools and stationery, empowering them to chart their educational journey with confidence.

Taking a holistic view, we understand that the learning environment significantly impacts students’ educational outcomes.

Over the past three years, from 2022 to 2024, we’ve undertaken extensive efforts to enhance learning spaces across Africa. For example, following a devastating flood in Igando, Lagos, we renovated classrooms at the Local Government Nursery and Primary School, ensuring a conducive environment for students to thrive.

Our commitment extends beyond students to the educators who shape their minds. Through initiatives like the Canvas of Change Masterclass, launched in October 2023, we equip teachers with innovative techniques and tools, empowering them to inspire the next generation.

During this flagship program, that spanned Nigeria and the Ivory Coast, we donated on Million Naira worth of stationery materials to three beneficiary schools, including Abiola School, ZI Primary School, and Holy Garden School, in Lagos, Nigeria. We believe that in promoting the invaluable act of writing by hand, attention must be given to the quality of the stationery used. This has spurred us to make numerous donations to schools over the years. In 2022, for instance, we donated over 2.5 million learning materials to schools in need in commemoration of the Global Education Week.

Recognizing the broader benefits of handwriting and artistic expression, we’ve championed initiatives like the Art Master Africa competition. Since its inception in 2017, this competition has engaged over 4,000 ballpoint artists across the continent, promoting creativity and cognitive resonance, and enriching educational experiences beyond the classroom.

To complete the cycle of impact, we’ve partnered with organizations like Enactus to provide internship opportunities for students within our network. By facilitating career pathways, we ensure that educational development transcends academic achievement, empowering young people to realize their full potential in the professional world.

In all, handwriting — whether it is scribbling, doodling or scrawling — is more than a skill; it’s a gateway to academic and personal success, for children’s cognitive development, and self-expression amongst youths as well. As such, as we navigate the digital age, the importance of putting pen to paper cannot be overstated.

It is important that we collectively remain committed to actively supporting the preservation of handwriting through a variety of impactful initiatives.

It is only by doing this that we will foster creativity in a way that leaves an indelible mark on the educational journey, thereby nurturing academic success and empowering a generation capable of authentic self-expression and critical thinking.


Adeyemi Ojo is the Business Development Manager, BIC Nigeria