Literacy in the most basic form is the ability to read and write. As we celebrate the International Literacy Day on September 8 every year, we must duly emphasise on handwriting, an ancient art of expressing and preserving one’s thoughts and ideas.
Unfortunately, this ancient art is fast disappearing or dying in a varying degree globally. Why should we care about it? It will be a tragedy if we stop writing by hand and losing a big part of the craft and skill intimately tied to our language, heritage, history, identity, and culture for generations. In the ancient times, people inscribed on stones. And in the 21st-century, tools, technologies, and social media do offer the ability to communicate more efficiently in our workplace and businesses, but we must be mindful that handwritten personal communications have a significant place – perhaps no substitute in my view.
Like many of you, I use my fingers on the keyboard, but I have always maintained my handwriting wherever possible and appropriate. Certainly, I make mistakes when writing in Hindi, but it still keeps my vocabulary and mother language reasonably intact.
In my social engagement through Vidya Gyan, I have noticed that children in government primary schools in rural India are writing very little. When I began to inquire about young children in the U.S, I found that it is not very different. Why? In fact, it is the divide between the haves and the have-nots.
Broadly speaking (India included) children in impoverished areas have limited, or no access to simple tools such as pencil and paper and therefore can do little or no writing. On the contrary, the children in developed societies have ready access to modern technological gadgets which allow fingers to work on the keyboard rather than writing by hand. A country like India with its rising population and diversity cannot afford to de-emphasise handwriting because technology is a long way to penetrate in remote and rural areas.
One of our initiatives under Vidya Gyan banner, Pencil to Power, is designed to put a renewed emphasis on handwriting in schools in India which we believe is critical to deeper learning. Vidya Gyan has distributed notebooks, pencils, and erasers-the most basic needs-in about 30 schools as a pilot project. At the time of this writing, we are also exploring how the handwriting initiative can be implemented in select schools in the U.S. and elsewhere.
I invite your (particularly the youth’s) ideas, and more importantly your voluntary services and financial contributions, to spread the message that handwriting is an essential skill that every child in each school be engaged in. As adults, we must also serve as role models by exchanging handwritten messages with the youth and our children. Here is the advice to class 9 students by the U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, “Once a week, you should write a note to someone. Not an email. A handwritten note on a piece of paper…”
Literacy for all (worldwide) is more critical today than ever before because of ever expanding globalization and necessity for communication. I argue that even with the increasing access to modern gadgets for faster communication, everyone must be proficient in the functional tool of writing by hand.
Therefore, on every Literacy Day, we must pledge to help someone somewhere to be literate, educated, and empowered. In my informed view, the art and skill of handwriting, when practised regularly, allows us to put ideas on to paper, effortlessly and fast. It is time to celebrate both the old (the skill and art of handwriting) and the new (technological gadgets). It is very important for India’s youth to take Roberts’ advice to heart and practice the art and skill of handwriting. Today’s youth is the future of India and their engagement in writing by hand is the most effective way for this ancient art and practice not to be extinct.