By second grade, Austrian students must learn cursive hand, based on the 1995 version of the Österreichische Schulschrift, or Austrian school script. The instruction of print style writing, however, is optional.
The Bundesministerium für Bildung, Wissenschaft und Forschung (BMBWF), or Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research, is responsible for school as well as other levels of education. While most schools in Austria are public, private schools also exist. Schooling is divided into the following stages: Kindergarten (under 6 years old), Volksschule or primary school (1–4 grades), Allgemeinbildende Höhere Schule (AHS), or general secondary school, which has Unterstufe, or lower, (5–8 grades) and Oberstufe, or upper levels (9–14 grades). Education upto and including grade 8 is compulsory.
In 2003, the BMBWF published the last iteration of the Volksschul-Lehrplan, or Elementary School Curriculum. The curriculum specifies that by the end of second grade, students should have legible and fluent handwriting based on the cursive Österreichische Schulschrift, or Austrian school script, though they have leeway in how they adopt it. Schools may teach print style writing before cursive, but it is not mandatory.
Österreichische Schulschrift was introduced in 1995 by the Bundesministerium, though it is only from the academic year 2023–24 that it has become compulsory to teach handwriting using this model. Prior to that, educators could choose between that or the model published in 1969. Both are built on the same foundation, and only differ in the looped construction of some letters like “a”, “d”, “g” and “q”.
A new proposal for handwriting instruction, developed by type designers Martin Tiefenthaler and Titus Nemeth, was released in 2023. It comprises a typeface called Prima, and was commissioned by Wiener Bildungsserver, an association supported by the City of Vienna to promote media literacy among children and young people.
Towards an Austrian school script
The development of the first handwriting model for school instruction in Austria can be traced back to 1774–1775, when Johann Ignaz von Felbiger, the Generaldirektor des Schulwesens, or General Director of the school system, was commissioned to produce an alphabet for teaching by empress Maria Theresa. Felbiger was an abbot, teacher and school inspector, and was responsible for the expansion of the primary school system in the country. His handwriting primer remained in publication from 1774 to 1832.
Until the middle of the 20th century, the blackletter style Kurrent held sway in Austria. It was the first style taught to students in primary school, and was, along with Fraktur, used to typeset school books. Among the models used at the time was Wiener Richtformen, developed in 1924 by graphologist and teacher, Alois Legrün. Wiener Richtformen, or Viennese Guidelines, was a cursive hand in both upright and slanted versions that was based on Kurrent.
The popularity of Kurrent in Austria presented a scenario, which was quite different from neighbouring Germany, where Kurrent was disfavoured and Sütterlinschrift emerged as the accepted model for handwriting education. In 1938, Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany. Consequently, Kurrent was abolished, as it was throughout the Reich, and it was replaced with Deutsche Normalschrift in 1941. Deutsche Normalschrift was a slightly slanted, fully connected cursive style based on Sütterlinschrift. It was replaced with the Österreichische Schulschrift, or Austrian school script, in 1946 after the collapse of the Nazi regime.
Schulschrift model from 1946 on the right, and a letterchart of the Wiener Richtlinien model from 1924 on the left.
A decade after the Lateinische Ausgangsschrift (LA), or Latin starting script, was introduced in Bundesrepublik Deutschland (BRD), or West Germany, in 1953, it was also adopted in Austrian primary schools, albeit with some peculiarities: the uppercase ”B”, “P” and “R” were written continuously with an upward loop on the left; and the lowercase “r” featured a loop on the baseline, which was in line with the letter’s construction in Kurrent. During 1967–1970, this loop was simplified to a small bow and a second acute inversion on the baseline, and around 1970, it was further simplified to a single acute inversion.
A new version of Österreichische Schulschrift with further modifications was adopted in 1995. It was developed by a group led by designer, Hadmar Lichtenwallner, and public school teacher, Ludwig Boyer, and tested over a ten-year period before its introduction. On its publication, it became an option for educators to teach, alongside the 1969 version.