Pen or Pencil


“Pen licence” is an educational reform in the USA that was introduced in 2014. According to this system, in the early years of primary schools, children are required to write in pencil. They are not allowed to use a pen until they demonstrate fluent and legible writings. Only then they earn pen licence: a certificate that states that they are now allowed and expected to use ink for both schoolwork and homework. The point of crediting pencil is that pens can be difficult to hold and control, with the potential of the ink smudging, which makes it more complicated for children to master the basic movements of handwriting. However, in my opinion, it is not the basic ideology that lies behind this reform.

Getting pen licence means students need to have a great sense of responsibility for their writing product as writing with an ink is a mark for eternity. In other words, children have to think before they act because what they have already written with an ink is not erasable. But, the question is, what is the point of practicing writing with a pencil in order to master pen? That is because using a pencil is all about change and correction in their writings. It may indicate that mistakes should be put right and should not be ignored not only in their writings but also in their daily life.

In Japan, much of the writing in schools is done with a pencil. A saying in Japan is that “your writing reflects what your heart looks like”. Using a pencil makes it easier to erase mistakes – and to provide a flawless handwriting, even if it is not on the first try. As a result, Japanese have much less bias against pencil and feel much more comfortable using it. Hence, they have no problem with creating documents in pencil. Conversely, in most European countries, especially in Finland where typing is taught instead of handwriting,  pencil seems to have a dirty and uneducated feel, and people are much more hesitant to use pencil for documents someone else can see.

This can even be extended to a wider view of the difference between lean in Japan and lean in the European countries. In Japan, it is absolutely okay to fix, improve, and change until the result is flawless. In the Western world, the goal has to be achieved on the first try, even if there are a few smudges and spots left at the end. Amazing! The whole difference between Japanese and European lean boils down to what we write with at school!

As for Kazakhstan, practicing with pencil before switching to pen might be highly worthwhile, especially with the great number of work that teachers should do and with the less and less amount of time that they have. The reason is illegible handwriting is the primary cause for loss of staff time and prevents them from continuing their work-related task.


What do you think if the reform “Pen licence” will be implemented in Kazakhstan too?

Does it worth or it is a waste of time to educate writing with a pencil and then with a pen?

What are the other advantageous or disadvantageous points?



3 thoughts on “Pen or Pencil

  1. That’s a really interesting stuff to discuss 🙂
    The way I understand it is that the reform has been introduced to increase students’ motivation towards developing their handwriting and responsibility for what they have produced. Still, it might happen that the students who will not be able to obtain pen licence will feel demotivated and ashamed. It may cause stress or anxiety. Yet, I do consider that it is beneficial to learn to write using pen first since, as you have mentioned, students will learn from their mistakes and strive for better quality. I always encourage my students (usually secondary school ones) to use pencil while doing their writing assignments. It makes writings look neat and legible, and students can simply erase words/sentences in case they want to.
    However, I do not agree that bad handwriting is “primary cause for loss of staff time” and hindrance “from continuing their work-related task” (as for me, it is usually poor management or tedious paper work). What makes you think so?


  2. Thank you for the post! It was really intersting and new information for me. Since the first days of my primary school my handwriting was awful. Well, it is still awful now but I am no longer obsessed with that thanks to computers. But in my childhood my teachers and parents always tried to make me write “beautifully” saying that handwriting reflects your whole intelligence. I am not sure why people connect so many ideologies to handwriting, but I think it is still an important skill to teach to children. But I disagree that bad handwriting is hindrance to children’s future job etc. Regardless whether it is good or bad, importance of handwriting is decreasing and some countries such as Finland are even removing handwriting classes in schools and implementing keyboard skills classes***. Therefore, I think that handwriting IS an important skill but bad handwriting should not be treated as a HUGE problem.



  3. Thanks, Linguist.

    In the computer age, handwriting is indeed becoming less of a focus in our lives, but schools still do a LOT of work writing with a pen or pencil. So, thanks for raising this issue. I have
    a couple questions about your main idea, and a few comments for improvement.

    First, your opening statement “However, in my opinion, it is not the basic ideology that lies behind this reform.” is a bit confusing for me. Are you saying that the reform is not based on the ideas that you present in the first paragraph (smudging and gripping?), or that you think the reform is an important one but for different, “deeper ideological” reasons? This might be clearer if you included some details about this reform, perhaps by describing it a bit more (where, how, who?) or sharing a link to where you found this information. As a general note, all of you examples and evidence about Japan or Europe should also be accompanied by some link or reference. How can I check your ideas if you don’t point me to your source?

    Your writing is mostly clear, but one confusing mistake is repeated:
    This can even be extended to a wider view of the difference between lean in Japan and lean in the European countries. (do you mean “learning”?)


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