Should schools take a step back in time?

One academic says it''s time to get back to the basics.

By Danielle Galvin

Digital technology is increasingly common in Australian classrooms, with many primary school students having iPads and apps and various online tools and resources.

But there’s an academic in regional Queensland who believes there’s a better way forward, although for some it might seem like a step backwards.

CQUniversity education academic Dr Ragnar Purje published a piece in Australia’s Education Review that explores the benefits of a return to chalk and slate – a decades old approach he says is second to none.

Dr Purje argued that writing on a screen or typewriting, simply cannot replace the complex skill of handwriting with chalk.

“Handwriting is so profoundly important as the brain research shows that it is intricately linked to two areas of the brain,” he said.

“Handwriting and typewriting are not the same.

“Handwriting needs to take place to advance oral language, that becomes written language, which then always hthe development of complex ideas.

“However if a child doesn’t know how to hold a pencil correctly, their writing skills won’t be as efficient.”

Dr Purje said using chalk encouraged a “tripod grip” with thumb and pointer finger, which helps shape neurological, neuromuscular, gross and fine motor skill pathways.

“The research dealing with handwriting and compositional narrative writing development is unambiguous; handwriting and narrative writing is not only complex, it requires desire, discipline, dedication, determination, perseverance and resilience.”

He explained that the connection is profound: teaching children to write is not just about the activity itself.

It also leads into constructing complex sentences and ideas, as well as reading and writing.

He is also concerned about the prevalence of digital technology and how it can discourage an active imagination.

“Children don’t need technology at prep or grade 1,” he said.

“I am not an advocate for saying we shouldn’t have technology, we need to embrace it for what it is

“We have choices in how we use that technology.

“Children don’t need technology form the moment they are born .. technology immersement stops brain development at the level that it needs to take place.”

While chalk and slate are not widely or readily used in most Australian primary schools, Dr Purje recommends that parents encourage their children to practise writing with chalk in the preschool years.

“When I was at school, we practised letter formation with chalk, then progressed to pencil then pen. This process is hard work, but the brain advances in its complexities by and through the process of effort, application and hard work,” he said.

Dr Purje, who completed his PhD with CQUni in 2016 under the supervision of Professor Ken Purnell, is the author of Responsibility Theory®, a book and neuro-education program guiding teachers in best-practice education methods for brain-friendly learning.