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Basic skills: touch typing

Slashdot noted a Telegraph UK article asking Why aren’t children taught to touch-type at school?

All children are given endless hours of coaching in how to use the most common computer applications, such as Windows, spreadsheets and PowerPoint, all of which are likely to have moved on significantly by the time current primary school pupils enter the world of work.

Yet they are taught how to use these programs without being taught the most basic computing skill of all – typing. It is the modern-day equivalent of teaching a child to do joined-up writing without ever showing them how to hold a pencil.

Old style typewriter classes in high school were business oriented and not only taught touch typing but also much of the protocol for effective letter writing and correspondence style and formatting. Because touch typing is a manual skill, it requires practice (and drudge) to acquire. Nowadays touch typing is often taught as a computer game in junior high – without the document layout and design ideas.

Rayner also brings up another problem and that is the emphasis on learning about specific programs rather than the trade that the program supports. The nature of the problem can be seen in the Pagemaker story. When that program came out in the mid 80’s, page layout craftsmen quickly moved from manual cut and past with glue and pieces of paper to doing the same thing with images on a screen. Much of their trade melded with that of page designer as the software removed many hurdles in setting type to page. In fact, it became so easy to create pages for printing that amateurs started playing with the technology and then schools started teaching it. The problem is that many of the principles of the trade became subservient to learning the software menu structure and technique. Fonts, margins, page design, publication design, and many other facets were shunted aside. Students were taught tools and not trade. The result was ugly.

One commenter took note about teaching skills with musical instruments. That also often suffer in schools as technique in use of the instrument is placed above the art of expression in music.

Formalized instruction in touch typing is probably more efficient and can produce better results than self learned. Even some authors (e.g. Isaac Asimov) wrote many books using only a two finger technique so you can get by with minimal skills. But nearly every job requiring communication or data entry could be made more productive with effective keyboard skills. Despite the claims about voice and character recognition and other technologies, there is nothing on the horizon right now that looks to surpass the keyboard for transferring data, as in words and numbers, from mind to machine.

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