CLASS ACTION

Should Hong Kong schools be doing more for left-handed children?

More than one in 10 are left-handed, but teachers appear ignorant of the problems these pupils face using right-handed implements and equipment that can leave some students feeling clumsy and uncoordinated

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 November, 2015, 3:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 November, 2015, 3:00am

My son is left-handed and left-footed, and unlike some children he is not very ambidextrous. There doesn't seem to be much consideration given to left-handers at his school. He is good at sport, and they are playing hockey this term in Year Six, but with right-handed sticks. The violins and recorders sent home for practice are also for right-handers. His handwriting is terrible and he hasn't been taught to hold his pencil properly. Shouldn't more be done for left-handed children in schools?

Your comments certainly beg the question: what are schools doing for left-handers? More than 10 per cent of children are left-handed and it seems that many right-handed teachers are not aware that these children have differing needs. Struggling with right-handed implements and equipment can leave some students feeling clumsy and uncoordinated; others produce illegible handwriting simply because a teacher is unaware of the difficulties. But it is not all gloom for left-handers. Researchers are unsure why, but left-handers have a greater chance of having a higher IQ. Also, it can be an advantage to be left-handed in certain sports such as tennis, and being a left-footer is often sought after in soccer teams. Look on the internet with your son and find the famous inventors, scientists, entrepreneurs and sports people who are left-handed. This should help him to feel better.

Research shows that being "right-brained" means that left-handers tend to be more creative, musical and are better at expressing their feelings. Artistic skills can become highly developed as a result of being able to see a picture in their mind before transferring an idea or concept to paper.

At the beginning of each school year it is worth making sure that your son's teachers are aware that he is left-handed. There are several important and relatively easy things they can do to help. Ask whether left-handed scissors are available, for example. Violins can be restrung for left-handers and the bottom of a recorder can be easily twisted around.

It helped my own left-handed daughter when she had a left-handed teacher, who was so much more aware of her needs. She made sure that she sat either next to another left-hander, to avoid a constant clash of elbows, or on the end of a table. This may seem a minor point, but can avoid frustration for both parties. Left-handed teachers in all schools could be used more effectively to give other teachers pointers and be drafted in for demonstrations.

Handwriting is certainly more challenging for left-handers as their writing is often obliterated from view by their writing hand immediately after they have scribed and is therefore easily smudged. It is not unusual for them to twist their hand and wrist in order to avoid this, developing an awkward pen grip and an uncomfortable posture while tilting their paper to severe degrees. This is a hard habit to change once ingrained.

Also, left-handers have to "push" the pencil when writing (right-handers pull the pencil, making it easier to write smoothly) and often grip too tightly, which leads to the pencil digging into the paper and causes the wrist to ache. However, there is no reason why left-handers can't develop a neat, cursive style if taught properly. They need to bring their hand under the writing line and place the paper slightly to the left of the body so they draw the pencil towards them.

Despite the increase in equipment such as non-smudge pens, specially designed scissors, and a wider range of musical instruments such as left-handed guitars, left-handed children still have to overcome the frustrations of living in a right-handed world. They have to struggle with everyday equipment and manipulate zips and buttons when dressing. This is why many of them tend to be more ambidextrous.

You may find, as I do, that it is difficult as a right-handed parent to demonstrate things to a left-handed child. Teaching skills such as tying shoelaces, for example, can be best tackled by sitting opposite rather than beside them therefore giving a mirror image to copy. This also applies to other learning situations.

Julie McGuire teaches at a primary school in Hong Kong