The digitization of teaching has given a big boost in the Corona pandemic. This is one of the few positive experiences from the time of alternating and distance learning. But one skill has suffered massively during this time: the ability to write by hand safely, cleanly and quickly.

Children and young people in particular, who already had difficulties with writing before the pandemic, have now fallen even further behind. This is shown by the so-called STEP survey of 841 teachers, which the Schreibmotorik-Institut presented in cooperation with the Association for Education and Training (VBE). The survey was carried out across Germany for the third time after 2015 and 2019 and shows how clearly the ability to write has suffered.

Almost a third of teachers in primary education and even a good half of teachers in secondary education consider their students’ handwriting skills to be insufficient. According to this, 47 percent of students in secondary schools cannot write for half an hour or longer without cramping or tiring. Above all, readability, writing structure and writing speed have deteriorated, the teachers surveyed complain.

With an impact on the overall learning performance, as Marianela Diaz Meyer, Managing Director of the Schreibmotorik-Institut, said: “Anyone who cannot write fluently and at a certain speed is often no longer able to follow the lessons properly and falls behind in their performance.”

The proportion of boys and girls who have fundamental problems with writing did not increase further during the pandemic. But their problems have only gotten worse. “There is a particularly strong decline in handwriting skills among boys, half of whom have problems with handwriting anyway,” says Diaz Meyer.

Here, three-quarters of the teachers saw a slight or even severe drop in performance. Among the girls, a third of whom find it difficult to write by hand, 56 percent see a deterioration. But even among those who have not had any problems so far, every fourth teacher sees a negative development. The main causes are lack of exercise and higher media consumption during the pandemic.

“We see a whole series of problems for the children and young people affected,” said the federal chairman of the VBE, Udo Beckmann. “Handwriting has a great influence on the learning process as a whole and thus on the entire educational biography.”

The use of digital media is becoming increasingly important for the future of learning. However, they cannot yet replace the advantages of pen and paper – they are the preferred writing media for 97 percent of primary school teachers and 98 percent of secondary school teachers. This is also due to the fact that writing by hand trains the brain, explained Diaz Meyer.

Hardly anything has such a great impact on the cognitive development of children and adolescents, since more than 30 muscles and 15 joints have to be coordinated. “This activates twelve different areas in the brain: from perception to the processing of information to motor execution.” Significantly less brain activity is registered when typing on the computer.

Against this background, it is particularly worrying that since the beginning of the pandemic, more and more children are missing the fine motor skills needed to develop good and fluent handwriting when they transition from kindergarten to school. 45 percent of the teachers see a deterioration in the skills needed to develop handwriting in the children who have just started school, and 34 percent even see a significant deterioration.

On the one hand, this is due to the daycare closures and, on the other hand, to the serious shortage of staff, which has been made worse by the pandemic, says Beckmann. “84 percent of the day-care center managers experienced a further intensification of the shortage of skilled workers last year. Therefore, the children’s motor skills could not be promoted as one would actually like.”

The same applies to the schools, which have been suffering from a shortage of teachers for years. Beckmann’s bitter conclusion: “Politicians have to be honest and communicate openly and transparently to schools, but also to society, what is affordable under the given conditions and what is not.”

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