Handwriting branded as a “dead art” by head teacher

The iPad has been a huge hit since going on sale

THE head teacher of a private school has called for exams in Scotland to be done on iPads, declaring that handwriting is a “dead art”.

Alison Speirs attacked an “old-fashioned” insistence on handwritten exams, which she blamed on the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).

The head of Cedars School of Excellence, Greenock, has issued all pupils with iPads – at a cost of £45,000 – and almost all lessons are taught on the taught on the revolutionary, touchscreen computers.

But the school still has to spend time and money teaching handwriting skills so that pupils can tackle traditional pen-and-paper exams.

Ms Speirs believes the exam system should be redesigned so candidates can use iPads and other portable computers.

She said: “It’s got to come eventually. Handwriting is a dead art and the exam structure is out of line with everything you do in real life.

“Everything we do that’s old fashioned in school is to fit in with the SQA.

“I’m training the children here for the future. We are no longer in an industrial society. It is a digital age. It’s their future, not our past.”

Cedars is the first school in Scotland to issue all pupils with a touchscreen computer and Ms Speirs says it has transformed learning.

Before the iPads were issued, youngsters only got around 45 minutes a week on a computer.
“The iPad came along at the right time for us,” said Ms Speirs.

“The difficulty we had was everybody wanted to be using computers .

“It’s been one of the best things that has happened in my teaching career of 40 years. It’s been one of the things that has most motivated children to learn.”

The machines are used in every lesson and pupils do their homework on them. The Notes app is used for writing texts and stories and the school staged a Christmas concert on the iPad with up to 50 pupils at a time playing carols on virtual instruments.

Fraser Speirs, computing teacher at the school and the mastermind behind the scheme, said the only drawback was pupils having to switch back to handwriting for exams.

He said: “The teachers in the big essay subjects are having to remind themselves to write on paper only because of the exam.

“It’s hard enough to do a two hour exam as it is never mind if you have been used to working on an iPad.

“Handwriting doesn’t exist is society anymore except in exams and we still have to teach it.”

Cedars’ iPad experiment has drawn attention from across the globe with teachers from other countries keen to visit the school to learn how the iPad can be used in an educational environment.

Around 20 teachers from Denmark are flying to Scotland shortly to see iPad lessons in action.

And Mr Speirs is flying to Texas to give a talk at Abilene University.

Technology has transformed communication with smart phones, laptops and tablet computers generally considered an essential part of everyday life.

The Mobile Data Association (MDA) found that in 2009, UK residents sent 11 million texts an hour. And  Radicati

Group estimated in April 2010 that the almost 300 billion emails are sent daily around the world.

For most people, handwriting is restricted to the occasional scribbled note.

John Edward, director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS), backed the introduction of computers in the exam hall.

He said: “I can’t think there is any reason against it. There is a good chance that things are moving in that direction and, depending on individual needs, some pupils are already doing that.

“It’s probably the cost that would be the biggest barrier.”

But he added that handwriting should not be forgotten.

“It’s one of the basic literacy skills that pupils are going to need,” he said.

Sarah Mooney, principal of the London College of Graphology, said it would be a “terrible shame” if computers replaced pen and paper in exams.

She said: “Handwriting is not only a form of social communication but it is an expression of the person’s personality.

“We would all prefer a handwritten letter, it’s an expression of life.

“If people were able to write fluently, they wouldn’t mind writing with pen and paper.

“If computers were to replace handwriting it means people wouldn’t be able to spell because they would be able to use spell check and even grammar check on some computers.”

Last night, the SQA set their face against the introduction of iPads in exams. A spokesman said: “There are no plans to do so and no discussions which could lead to that happening.”