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Since ancient times, across civilizations, various scripts have been developed and have continued to be in use even today. This proves that the practice to learn and write is ancient. However, evidences of scientific research on handwriting can be traced only since 19th century AD and most of it is Roman/Latin centric. Surprisingly, in a multi-script country like India, no trace of scientific research has been found on the process of teaching and learning handwriting. Each script is unique and has different graphical and morphological aspects. Hence, it is necessary to study every script individually.
The skill of handwriting is acquired through regular and step-by-step practice. And it starts with learning some basic strokes. Traditionally, various learning aids also known as primers were used to teach handwriting. From those, the ones being used today were analysed. It was observed that, in those primers practice of basic strokes was missing. The only exception was a text book from first grade which mentioned 8 basic strokes. However, these basic strokes didn’t seem to be of much relevance for a complex script like Devanagari.
How important are the basic strokes for handwriting acquisition, hasn't been researched yet. Therefore, to confirm the conventions, instructional theories of academicians were studied. In the context of skill acquisition, Jerome Bruner’s concept of “Spiral Curriculum” (Hardner & Stampe, 1999) emphasizes on information being structured, so that complex ideas can be taught at a simplified level first, and then re-visited at more complex levels later. This supports our assumption about the need of handwriting primitives (basic strokes) in the process of handwriting acquisition. Having established this, we then probe into understanding the sufficiency and efficacy of existing Devanagari basic strokes for the complex graphical nature of the complete script. Further, we shed light upon what can be Devanagari’s basic strokes and, how to extract them.
The session on extraction, was conducted with two groups of people. The first, with six random participants who were given general instructions to cull out the various basic strokes of Devanagari. The participants manually traced the various strokes from the given model sheet of letters. The second group comprised five expert participants who were given pointed instructions to perform the same task. Clustering these strokes as per form and movement similarity, led us to find primitives for Devanagari handwriting. The primitives were classified into 'unidirectional' and 'multi-directional'.
In comparison to these, the strokes mentioned in the first grade book were found insufficient.
Now, to test the efficiency of these primitives, final experiment was designed. After conducting many pilots, two important aspects were finalised, the material used to conduct the experiment and the framing of appropriate subjects to test the material. This experiment was conducted in four stages namely- Treatment, Post-Test, Evaluation by jury and Statistical Analysis. As there was no established process to evaluate the letterforms, an indigenous evaluation sheet was designed for the evaluation of the Post-test by the jury. A pilot evaluation test was conducted to confirm the factors of evaluation for handwriting acquisition along with a measuring scale.
The results of statistical analysis of the jury evaluation proved that the basic stroke practice is effective for correct handwriting acquisition. Moreover, it was also proved that script specific practice is necessary for correct acquisition. The newly extracted Devanagari primitives for handwriting have shown significant impact on handwriting acquisition by new learners. The manual method for extracting handwriting primitives are proposed, which will surely help many other Indian scripts in the future.
IDC School of Design,