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Calligraphy Losing Favor Among Children
Every weekend, some 600 students bang away on keyboards and fiddle with mouses as part of five computer classes offered by the Shanghai Children's Palace, the city's largest community center offering extracurricular activities for children. In another classroom not far away, only a handful of students practice the traditional art of calligraphy with brush pens on rice paper.

"Computers are interesting and the skills will be useful in my future," said Sun Zhe, an 11-year-old boy who studies at Caoguangbiao Primary School.

Sun made it clear, however, that calligraphy, which was once considered an important skill for anyone hoping to get a good job, doesn't interest him.

"It's dull and useless," he declared.

That view is shared by many youngsters, which worries local educators who consider handwriting and calligraphy lessons an important way to teach children patience and persistence.

"Only 70 students are learning calligraphy here at present," said Chen Baihua, vice director of the palace. "That is about one-fifth of the number we had in the 1980s and 1990s."

While the traditional skill is losing favor among the young, a growing number of students are studying computer skills in their free time.

"We have added 20 computer classes this year to meet the growing demand," said Chen.

Qian Peiyun, chairman of the national research center on handwriting education, said not long ago good handwriting was considered a sign of a good education and was key to landing a good job.

But with the introduction of the personal computer, and computer generated resumes, youngsters no longer consider handwriting an important skill.

"Children have limited spare time because of their heavy workload at school, so when they pick extra-curricular activities here, parents tend to choose more practical skills, such as computers and music lessons," according to the official of the palace.

The city's Education Commission, which still believes in the old Chinese saying that a persons handwriting reflects a person's character, has tried to improve local students' writing skills, but to little avail.

In the late 1990s, the commission set up a voluntary series of writing tests and regulated that writing lessons are mandatory in primary schools.

Fewer students than expected wrote the tests, and some primary schools have not taken the mandatory writing lessons seriously.

"The teachers are not qualified and the writing lessons are often used for other purposes," said Shen Jinlong of the commission. To solve the problem, the commission is talking about adopting new measures.

For instance, the four-tier writing test will be hosted annually to allow more students to attend, a citywide handwriting contest will be carried out among teachers to improve education quality and students' handwriting skills will be used as one criteria to rate the performance of a teacher or a school.

(Eastday.com November 16, 2002)

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