Get those fingers flexing

7th May 2004 at 01:00
I'm a writer who loves word-processors. Over the years, I must have written tens of thousands of words. My two index fingers take the strain. My thumb does the space bar, and occasionally the middle finger slips in to do the occasional full stop.

All of which is ludicrous. I make mistake after mistake and, while I'm pretty nifty, I'm a damn sight slower than I would be if I had been taught to type properly.

I'm also a teacher and, like most of my colleagues, a lot of my work involves computers. Efforts to make us computer literate failed because they began with the premise that we all had certain skills. Like our pupils, we all have a vague idea how to edit work, print, download pictures from the internet, but few of us, or them, can type properly. And while we auld yins will stagger on because we haven't the time, inclination or energy to learn, we do have to question why we allow our pupils to.

There cannot be many jobs where keyboard skills are not involved. Scan through the ads and you'll see how often computer skills are sought. In school, we encourage pupils to word-process work, especially those with poor handwriting and shaky literacy. Yet we make no attempt to teach them how to use all their fingers. The result is that by fourth year, unless they have taken business studies, we have pupils wasting - and I mean wasting - hours of time typing up folios.

The average period's work usually yields a couple of paragraphs. They can all make colourful headings using WordArt, but few know where all the letters are, and use that time productively. Our sixth years go on to university - where increasing importance is laid on e-mailing work to lecturers - still dabbling with two fingers.

I would like to see proper typing skills taught in primary, when little minds are open to such things. (I'd also like to see half a dozen support for learning teachers in every primary, which would solve the vast majority of academic and behavioural problems in secondary schools - but I know I won't get my way.) Put it on every first-year timetable. Not just a period a week, because no one can learn without daily practice. So I'd go for a full 20 minutes a day, and a great deal of praise and reward given to individual progress. It would mean that all those hours spent non-productively, but quite happily (because it is thoughtless, all this plodding copy typing), would become a thing of the past. Able to type quickly and correctly, it might then free the brain for redrafting properly. And it will justify the cost of all those computers.

Most adults get through life with two fingers - and you can't really teach old dogs new tricks. But you can teach puppy dogs, and I'd like to see us make the time and effort to teach keyboard skills.

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