Handwriting education comprises of two stages: geometric “ball and stick” letters are taught in Grade 1, followed by a slanted continuous cursive style that is introduced in Grade 2.
In South Africa, the Department of Basic Education develops, supports and oversees school education system from Grade R (or Reception) to Grade 12. It also conducts teacher training, and is responsible for providing access to learning resources, which must be available in the country’s eleven official languages.
Basic education, which is divided into three levels, is compulsory. The first is the Foundation Phase comprising Grade R to Grade 3 (6–9 years old), next comes the Intermediate Phase that goes from Grade 4 to 6 (10–12 years old), and finally the Senior Phase that covers Grade 7–9 (10–12 years old). The South Africa Schools Act of 1996 recognises two types of schools: public, which are run by the State, and independent, which are privately-controlled.
Through its website, the Department of Basic Education produces and distributes documents that outline curricula, educational goals and guidelines, implementation notes, and assessment policies, including the National Curriculum Statement Grades R-12. Handwriting education is covered in the Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS) for the Foundation Phase that is dedicated to Language. This CAPS document outlines the steps and objectives for handwriting instruction. It specifies that students learn motor skills in Grade R, and unjoined upper and lowercase letters in Grade 1. They then gain speed and proficiency in Grade 2, and proceed to cursive writing. The document does not, however, prescribe any handwriting models that should be used for teaching.
Despite the absence of a recommended model, teachers, specialised publishers and educational resource providers have converged when it comes to their choice of fonts for handwriting education. Geometric “ball and stick” letters are used for the first stage of instruction, and a very slanted continuous cursive style thereafter.
In 1994, South Africa saw the birth of its new republic with the fall of the National Party that had been in power since 1948, along with its policy of racial segregation known as apartheid. Prior to that, the education system was mired in discrimination due to apartheid. Black students had access to poorer quality education and resources as a result of overcrowded classrooms and a lack of funds. Additionally, education had a monocultural vision, and the diverse cultures and linguistic backgrounds of Black South Africans were ignored and excluded from school curricula.
Sample pages from The Happy Handwriter’s Cursive Book 1
After the first multiracial election, the Government of National Unity established many principles that were reaffirmed in the 1996 constitution: racial equality, majority democracy and minority rights. The education reform that was started in this period sought to remove any hint of inequality and to embrace multiculturalism. This involved, among other directives, catering to users of the country’s eleven official languages Ndebele, Pedi, Sotho, Swati, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, Zulu, and Afrikaans, which stem from three different language branches; as well as English that acts as the primary language used in official discourse and local media. All these languages are written using the Latin script.
Most primary schools teach two languages, and many offer three. The Department of Basic Education publishes its CAPS documentation in all eleven languages. It also provides different guidelines for home language, i.e. the child’s mother tongue, and for the first and second additional languages they may learn in school. The same typefaces are used for handwriting instruction materials, irrespective of language.