Put your finger on the problem;Talk Back

23rd May 1997 at 01:00
People who type with two or three fingers, usually men, will smilingly tell you that they are as fast as they need to be, thank you. But they are deceiving themselves. Now that the whole world is typing into computers, and our new government has apparently pledged itself to more e-mail and Internet education in schools, it is time to take stock.

The head of Ardingly School quoted in TES2 ("Qwerty is key to keeping in touch", May 2) is so right, and so unique in his emphasis on the skill. But he is sadly misled in thinking that universities and businesses expect students to be using all fingers. Would that they were! Nor do I agree with his colleague who thinks that talking to a computer solves the problems; we are a long way from talk-text software that will not produce many errors.

So touch-typing is still a must for today's children. It can be very fast, especially if you take into account that you can read at the same time. And it is so easy to learn: three weeks for an adult with ingrained bad habits, two weeks otherwise, and perhaps only one for a child. If schools would allow children to do a lot of their work by typing, then the necessary practice would follow.

Typing is nothing like learning to play the piano, with which it is often compared. Typing is a gross motor skill. You can hit the keys any way you want, as long as you hit the right key for the right letter.

It might lead to better spelling because people could focus more on the words on their screens and less on their fingers.

And, not so incidentally, we might even find that learning to type helps reading. How much easier for young fingers to accustom themselves to the mysterious shapes we call letters and words by just hitting keys than by scrunching their clumsy fists around narrow pencils.

To put the matter more educationally, we all know that, in a learning task, the more sensory input the better. And the more easily managed that sensory input is, the better still. Learning the alphabet by reading and typing and writing must be quicker than only by reading and writing.

Handwriting need not suffer if typing is learned first. It is not like learning to use a calculator and then doing sums in the head; or like moving from an automatic car to a geared one. Writing can follow very well once letter shapes are familiar from typing.

Is there a benefactor in the house? Can someone be funded to research this? A keyboard manufacturer perhaps? I will instantly pledge pound;100 that the money will not be wasted.

Anita Pincas runs an MA in teaching English as a second language by e-mail for London University's Institute of Education

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