Tue | Jun 28, 2022

‘We can’t read what they have written’

Headmasters sound literacy alarm over penmanship as students return to classrooms

Published:Tuesday | January 25, 2022 | 12:12 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer
Poor penmanship has been cited as one of the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which schools have been shuttered for much of the last 22 months.
Poor penmanship has been cited as one of the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which schools have been shuttered for much of the last 22 months.

Some educators across Jamaica have expressed concern about the lack of penmanship skills among students since they have returned to face-to-face classes. Learning loss has been a key concern of stakeholders since schools were shuttered in March...

Some educators across Jamaica have expressed concern about the lack of penmanship skills among students since they have returned to face-to-face classes.

Learning loss has been a key concern of stakeholders since schools were shuttered in March 2020 to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Principal of Brown’s Basic School in Clarendon, Shelia Brown, told The Gleaner that teachers have been working with students on an individual basis.

“I don’t know how we are going to manage, but we are trying. Right now, I have so many of them who are sitting in a class and are unable to write. Maybe they were just at home playing and didn’t get any practice with writing,” she said of the four-year-old students.

At Mahoe Hill Primary and Infant School, headmistress Arlene Ashley said that about 75 per cent of her students were having penmanship challenges.

“Just now, I had to tell my class of grade three and four students that I want proper handwriting from them. They have lost basic handwriting skills. We can’t read what they have written and that will be a problem for them, especially with exams,” Ashley explained.

The principal added that students in grades one to four are now being engaged in penmanship sessions each morning before classes begin.

“Some of the letters are big, some are small. They write the letters below the line and they mix up letters like ‘p’ and ‘b’. There is a close-knit relationship with writing and reading and if they don’t write properly, they won’t be able to read and understand,” Ashley said of the legibility and fluency of their handwriting.

The principal of the St Mary-based school said she has seen improvements so far and it may take a year to get the students to an acceptable level.

At Elim Early Childhood Development Centre in Kingston, smaller class sizes have lessened the impact of the loss of fine motor skills among students.

WORRYING SITUATION

Principal Verna Gordon told The Gleaner that the majority of students are doing well.

“Penmanship is one of the most important things at this stage. If the children are not able to form letters and numerals, they are going to have a challenge moving on to the primary level,” she said.

Meanwhile, lead teacher of the Brain Builder Centre at Sunrays Educational Centre, Jacqueline Saddler, said that with the exception of recently enrolled three-year-old students, her charges were performing at an acceptable level,

“We are giving them a lot of crayon activities, zipping and buttoning to help develop their fine motor skills. They are tracing letters, but it is not as bright as we had expected,” Saddler said.

Former permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education, Elaine Foster-Allen, said it should not be surprising that children have lost or have not developed as much fine motor skills as they ought to.

She explained that using tablets, laptops, and similar devices does not require the skills needed to hold and use a pencil or a crayon.

“While at school before COVID, the little ones would have been learning to be dexterous using those finer motor skills, but because there was no intervention, so to speak, as the earlier years of school would allow for teachers to teach the children how to draw shapes, and trace letters, we are experiencing this situation,” Foster-Allen explained.

She said teachers will have to spend additional time to take corrective action, noting that it may be awkward for some children as some of the learning milestones should have been accessed earlier.

“Some children find it difficult to write certain letters. The ‘b’ and the ‘p’ are quite often inverted or reversed. There will probably need to be some concerted effort to get the children to do what educators know should be done at certain ages,” she said.

She added that brain research has shown that writing helps with learning and retention.

“Repetition is also very important. Repeating the shape of letters is going to be a very important thing for all children to either do or catch up on,” Foster-Allen remarked.

judana.murphy@gleanerjm.com