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Wednesday, July 05, 2017

The Importance of Penmanship in SJKC

Guest Post: This post was written by Joanne Lee, a mother of two and an avid member of our Facebook group, The Malaysia Primary School Parents on Facebook. Come join us for more modern-day parenting discussions.

Parents who have their first child attend Primary 1 will undergo some sort of culture shock. It could be how difficult the latest syllabus is, the frequent loss of stationery, bringing home classmate’s homework, etc. Discovering these little “surprises” is part and parcel of parenting life.

This post will touch on another such surprise: how important penmanship is in SJKC schools.

If you have not come across a penmanship horror story, count yourself lucky. Many parents find themselves shocked by the fact that teachers deduct marks for how a student writes their ABC’s in exams!

In this image, you will see mark deductions of the upper case W’s on the left and 1 instance of the lower case y on the far right. Each mistake costs 1 mark.

The straight y is considered uppercase Y in the syllabus. Regardless of what font you use on your gadgets, only the y with a g-hook is considered as lowercase ‘y’.

Some schools even took the extra step to whiteout the y’s in their computer-typed exam papers and replace each y by hand. Here’s the same image you saw at the beginning of this article, enhanced, and with the y’s circled out for you.

As for the W, the middle stroke has to be of the same height as the left and right sides. They also cannot be curved.

The same rules apply to uppercase M’s. The middle stroke must touch the ground, so to speak and only the lowercase m can have curves (i.e. it shouldn’t look like McDonald’s ‘M’).

When writing your a’s, o’s and g’s, close up the curves and make sure the stem for lowercase a is obvious.

The hook for g should also be apparent.

Dot your i’s and j’s clearly and don’t replace dots with dashes.

Some schools require the lowercase k to be written a certain way (see the third k). Others just want your child to focus on the height of the k to indicate whether it is a big K or small k.

You will need to check with your child’s class teacher on any other handwriting quirks your child will need to pay attention to e.g. writing the n, r and v clearly. The emphasis will be different in different schools.

But why? And is this really necessary?

The focus on this penmanship is not brought about by overzealous teachers who have unusual or high expectations of 7 year olds. It is in fact a direct order from the Ministry of Education and PPD for teachers to stress on penmanship among lower primary students.

During exams, teachers are required to deduct 1 mark per each wrongly written letter. This is independently confirmed by multiple SJKC teachers from a few states.

In fact, one teacher from Klang told me that by the end of Primary 1, the students are expected to already know how to properly write the letters. Penmanship penalties are thus harsher with older students. In this teacher’s school, the student will lose the allocated mark for the question if any of their letters are not up to par (if it is 3 marks, and you write the ‘y’ wrongly in the answer, you lose the full 3 marks).

Note that not all schools are this strict. Some SJKC schools group penmanship together with punctuation marks, or put a cap on how many marks can be deducted for each wrongly written letter, per section.

There also seems to be more emphasis on penmanship in English compared to BM. Again, this differs from school to school (I suggest you speak to your child’s class teacher if you have concerns on what to help your child focus on).

All teachers are expected to stress on the importance of penmanship during regular lessons (you may want to ask your little one to confirm this.) This may be part of the reason why your child spends quite a bit of time finishing up their homework.

Why all this new fuss about penmanship?

This isn’t new. It has been going for at least 6-7 years, around the time the KSSR syllabus change took effect. The aim is for all students to have neat and legible penmanship.

Teachers who mark UPSR papers lauded this effort because, understandably, marking papers with poor handwriting can drive an examiner up the wall. All the work to prevent this from happening in the future starts from Primary 1.

Some of the teachers I spoke to brought up stories of their colleagues who teach lower primary receiving complaints from parents because of this over-emphasis of handwriting particularly during school exams.

This puts teachers in a tough spot because they have received orders and guidelines to implement this focus on penmanship. More often than not, parents were not clued in on the matter and naturally complained because they feel blindsided by this. Having early awareness on this matter can help prevent incidents like this from happening.

So what can I do as a parent?

(1) Work together with your teachers to work on your child’s penmanship, from before Primary 1 itself. It is for their own good, years down the road.

(2) Regularly remind your child to pay attention to the strokes, curves, bends and staying inside lines. Some children require more guidance and practice than others. Teachers do not have enough time to devote to helping each and every student, which is where parents can chime in. You may even find your little one resisting writing practices because how do you expect a 7 year old to sit still for long, right? Hang in there.

(3) Some teachers may be more strict than others, to the point of scolding a student when they repeatedly make the same mistake in their handwriting. Stay positive, encourage and help your child to perfect their handwriting. Children are far more resilient than we think.

(4) Don’t be hard on teachers. They are after all, operating on instructions by their higher ups. It is better if you work together with your children’s teachers as a team, rather than against them. After all, we’re on the same team -- we all want what is best for the next generation.


  1. Agreed. I believe helping your child perfect penmanship comes with numerous benefits in the future as it sort of engraves a subconscious behavior whenever the child has to write any piece of content later on in their life that can help them tremendously both academically and in a professional career. Great stuff! Keep up the work.


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