Public school to discuss new exams for left-handers

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The Independent Online

Right-handers, it sometimes seems, have everything handed to them on a plate – particularly when it comes to the exams system.

Unlike left-handers they do not have to pull against the paper when writing their answers.

Even the word used to describe them in Latin – dexter – means that they are able. Left-handers, on the other hand, often struggle to write as much in answer to questions because of their handicap.

They may be more articulate but – hey – who gives any credit for that in exams unless it happens to be your French oral.

Also, the Latin word to describe them – sinestra – is translated into English as sinister.

Now one of the country's top independent schools, Malvern College, is staging a conference to examine the problems of being left-handed in education and how the exam system could be changed to put all children on a level footing.

Headmaster Anthony Smith, who will give the introductory address to the conference, told The Independent: "I don't think there is any allowance for left-handers. We should be considering ways of levelling the playing field between the two. For instance, if left-handers struggle to write enough because they are constantly pushing against the paper, should we be thinking of other ways of examining them?

"We don't allow people to use laptop computers during an exam setting. You have to use a pen. Maybe we should change that.

"Also, why not have oral exams in other subjects than foreign languages. If, as is suggested, left-handers are more articulate than right-handers, why not test them orally in history or English?"

Chris MacManus, professor of psychology and medical education at University College, London, will argue it is not surprising there are more right-handers than left-handers in the world.

"The right hand of the brain is associated with developing language. Learning a language is done in the right half of the brain."

In all,only around 11 per cent of men and nine per cent of women are left-hand dominant.

"We probably wouldn't have evolved as we are – the only species to use languages – if it hadn't been for the predominance of right-handedness," Mr McManus added.

However, right handers do not have the monopoly on brains.

Military leaders such as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and Joan of Arc were all left-handed. Musicians include Beethoven, artists Leonardo da Vinci and politicians Gandhi and – latterly –Barack Obama and David Cameron.

Some progress has been made over the years in the treatment of left-handers, academic experts acknowledge.

For instance, less than 50 years ago, parents and teachers would spend time trying to convert left-handed youngsters into right-handers.

Now the uniqueness that a left-hander can bring to a situation is being recognised.

"You get more left-handed bowlers in cricket because of the different angle they can bring to bear on bowling," said Mr Smith.

Left-handed opening batsmen tend to flourish because of the difficulty it presents to bowlers to bowl to a left-handed, right-handed combination.

Next week's conference, though, will examine whether moves to accommodate left-handedness have yet gone far enough. The answer is almost certainly not.

"Humans are very good good at looking at anybody that's different and treating them differently," said Professor MacMahon. For instance, red hair – often it is used as a form of insult.

"People are also good at making excuses for themselves because of their differences when things aren't going very well – like 'I've never done very well at school because I'm left-handed'. You very rarely get right-handed people blaming everything on their right-handedness."

He said the biro was "one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century" for left-handers as it was easier to pull it across paper than a steel-tipped pen.

However, there are still inequalities that have to be eradicated before left and right-handers are on an equal footing.

Politicians on right can also be lefties

*Of all the famous lefties, actor Peter O'Toole probably had the hardest time as a child. When he was a boy, he was beaten by nuns to correct his left-handedness and become right-handed. It was one of the reasons he sought to escape from them and devote his time to pursuing a career in acting from an early age. His experience was quite common among left-handed children in the 1950s – but times have changed.

*Famous female lefties included Joan of Arc, Judy Garland and Greta Garbo.

*Left-handedness can cause problems for people, though. US President Barack Obama was pictured signing his seal of office having to pull his pen across the paper as a result of being left-handed.

*Rock legend Jimi Hendrix was pictured holding his favourite guitar – a Fender Stratocaster – upside down to play it because it was for a right-hander.

*The sheer volume of left-handers to hold high office would seem to indicate that there is no handicap attached to it. In addition to President Obama, four of the previous six US presidents were left handers – Bill Clinton, George Bush snr, Ronald Reagan and Lyndon B Johnson. As indeed is our own David Cameron.