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The Case For Mandatory Touch-Typing In High School 705

Hugh Pickens writes "With the perspective of forty-plus years since my graduation, I would say the single most useful course I took in high school was a business class in touch-typing that gave me a head start for writing and with computers that I have benefited from my entire life. So it was with particular interest that I read Gordon Rayner's essay in the Telegraph proposing that schools add a mandatory course in touch typing to the cornerstones of education: reading, writing and arithmetic. 'Regardless of the career a child takes up when they leave school, a high percentage of them will use a keyboard in their daily work, and all of them are likely to use a keyboard in their leisure time,' writes Rayner. 'Touch-typing would help every child throughout their lives — so why are our schools so blind to this?'"
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The Case For Mandatory Touch-Typing In High School

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  • IT Industry (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Rophuine ( 946411 ) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @02:33AM (#29347701) Homepage
    I'm a software engineer, and I get to work daily with some people who never learned to touch-type. It would be a nice bonus to productivity if everyone around me could; not ground-breaking, but nice. I think, by and large, by the time people hit the workforce, their typing habits are pretty unlikely to change without some major effort. Is even high school too late? Most kids are regularly using computers right through primary school. I think learning to type is a responsibility shared by parents and primary schools these days.
  • DVORAK? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pipatron ( 966506 ) <> on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @02:41AM (#29347753) Homepage
    So now is the chance to get people to start using DVORAK or maybe something even better (maybe there's been more research on this the last decades). Personally I still use QWERTY but that's just because of 20+ years of being used to it. Would be nice with a thought-through layout as standard.
  • by FSWKU ( 551325 ) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @02:59AM (#29347875)
    That we teach kids how to write properly and put ideas into words FIRST. Being able to type will be of no use whatsoever if you don't know how to communicate. My brother's girlfriend teaches 6th grade, and a good portion of these kids are COMPLETELY unable to put together a coherent sentence. They're writing on at BEST a second grade level (the whole issue of kids not being held back when they need to be is another debate entirely), so a typing class will be of no benefit to them whatsoever. And that's just when you can actually decipher the chicken-scrawl that passes for handwriting these days.

    Bottom line is, they need to be learning things in some sort of a sequence so that they can build on what they already know. My opinion is they should go with it as follows:
    1. Reading/Handwriting (and no, I don't mean cursive): Be able to properly and clearly write the letters you will use for the rest of your life and learn it early. Yes, this is still important, because there are many times in daily life you will not have the option to simply punch buttons on a keyboard. If taught while one is still learning to read, the two disciplines will reinforce each other. Also, learning how to write before you can type builds fine motor control.
    2. Grammar & Comprehension: Once you have a solid grasp of how to read words and copy them in your own hand, you can begin the process of learning all the wonderfully annoying nuances of your native language (English being by FAR the most annoying). You don't have to master it overnight, but you want to get the basics down before you move any further. This will ensure that you know how to properly communicate on a functional level, and also that you are able to learn the more complex tidbits more easily.
    3. Typing: Yes, I put typing last on the list. If you don't know how to properly communicate FIRST, then all having the ability to type will do is make you seem like an idiot that much faster. You will get nowhere in life if the extent of your communication skills resembles the output from a pre-alpha version of Babelfish. Once you have a successful grasp on reading/writing/comprehension, only then does typing become an important tool in enabling you to communicate your ideas much faster. Before then, all it will do is become a hinderance.

    I am well aware the article talks about teaching this at the high school level, but from what I've seen, it doesn't improve much. When I was in high school, there were juniors and seniors who could barely read, and their handwriting may as well have been from Omicron Persei 8 for how legible it was. We need to make sure kids have a handle on the basic skills BEFORE they get to high school. If we can manage that, I'm pretty sure most will pick up typing quite well on their own.

  • by cp.tar ( 871488 ) <> on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @03:06AM (#29347925) Journal

    Touch-typing is a drop in the bucket. First, we'd have to begin to get rid of the lecture method with all it's crotchety old proponents who over-emphasize the main learning stream while under-emphasizing the alternatives. Then we'd have to rebuild education metholodogy to suit the 21st century. I'd say we're a few generations behind.

    When you take a better look at it, our education system has just been adding more of the same. My grandmother took four years of obligatory education (this was in Yugoslavia, now Croatia; YGMMMV). My parents and I took eight years of primary school. The current government, may it burn in seven hells, wants to make the first twelve years of education obligatory.
    The worst part is that the second four years of education are rather alike the first four, albeit with several new subjects, i.e. some old subjects diverging into several new ones. To top it all, the four years of current secondary education are just a rehash of the second four years of primary education.

    The system's efficiency is dropping steadily and steeply; teachers are out of touch with current technologies, and those who train teachers are even worse. The school system has increasingly less connection to both the real world and to its basic purpose, i.e. teaching. Instead, schools' primary purpose is becoming something quite different: keep the children trapped in the system, and keep young people at children's level for as long as possible.

    Touch typing would be a giant step forward in any education system since a primary skill would be taught. However, I abhor the idea of such a skill being graded, as it usually happens with anything taught in schools.

    BTW curious tidbit just crossed my mind: instead of teaching touch typing, Croatian schools recently reintroduced calligraphy. Instead of learning normal cursive script (joined-up writing), first-graders are taught old-style calligraphy. The fact that practically no-one uses a pen these days seems to have escaped the 19th century educators.
    Bloody morons.

  • by Hadlock ( 143607 ) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @03:06AM (#29347927) Homepage Journal

    Most people learn to touch type by age 12. If you don't figure it out by age 18 then it's pretty likely you won't ever need that skill. Driving lessons aren't mandatory, but people who need it learn how to drive anyways. I'm sorry, but this is probably one of the dumbest slashdot articles I've ever seen.

  • stunned (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Locutus ( 9039 ) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @03:10AM (#29347951)
    I'm stunned that it isn't required already. I took typing and even did it with a broken finger taped to a popsicle stick but it was one of the best courses I took. It is agonizing to watch someone poking their fingers on a keyboard with their hands moving all over the place and their eyes looking down and up and down and up. So much wasted effort and time and at the same time, businesses let people get away with this too. I've seen developers who can't touch-type and that is pathetic when such a skill means so much to getting the job done. Would you hire a mechanic who used a wrench for a hammer and screwdriver as a chisel? But, it's allowed, it's accepted, and as we have been made aware in this thread, touch-typing is an after thought in our school system so it's unlikely to change.

  • Proper Touch Typing (Score:2, Interesting)

    by LKM ( 227954 ) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @03:32AM (#29348099) Homepage

    Proper touch typing is important; improper touch typing (wrong hand position, using the wrong shift key for capitals, etc) can cause physical harm to your hands and wrists. Thus I would say that it is important for children to learn how to touch type properly, even if they only get to really use it at a later date.

  • by Chakotay ( 3529 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `nesdnera.a'> on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @03:53AM (#29348243) Homepage

    Agreed! I took a Scheidegger touchtyping course when I was around 10 years old, on one of ye olde electric typewriters, and it turns out that it is one of the most useful things I ever learned. Well, math and spelling are very useful too, of course, but touchtyping is a skill that has served me throughout my professional life.

    The problem is that in elementary school, most teachers don't know how to touch type, so how could they teach the children? The teachers should be taught first!

  • by xaxa ( 988988 ) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @04:15AM (#29348357)

    With Dvorak, that becomes "'A;,OQ", and what the hell is that supposed to mean?

    9:13:38 ~ > grep -i '^[aoeuidhtns]*$' /usr/share/dict/words | wc -l
    9:13:45 ~ > grep -i '^[asdfghjkl;]*$' /usr/share/dict/words | wc -l

    I know which I prefer.

  • by X0563511 ( 793323 ) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @04:15AM (#29348367) Homepage Journal

    But adding new technology is bad if it isn't used correctly. i.e. putting "smartboards", projectors, etc. in every classroom. No teacher knows how to use them, they are all required to use them, and student learning completely stops. Sitting in class for 20 minutes because the teacher can't get the computer to talk to the projector HARMS learning.

    My sister was one of the first teachers around here to get those. She actually knows how to use it, and uses it to great effect.

    Of course, I was the one who helped set it up, and figure out how it all works. Now that she knows, she teaches all the other teachers as best as she can.

    She's a bright one, though. Most of the other teachers don't grasp things like this as quickly as she does. (thats what happens when both your parents are engineering-type people)

    The sad bit, though?

    The whole school has a single tech to support them. And they have to submit requests in through the county, to get the help.

    The teachers ask me for help via my sister, since it takes almost a month for it to go through the proper channels.

    It's not the teachers or the technology that is at fault. It's the administrative systems that are attached to them.

  • I agree 100% (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bovinewasteproduct ( 514128 ) <.gclarkii. .at.> on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @04:29AM (#29348439) Homepage

    I've kept trying to tell my own kids that out of all the classes I took in HS, typing has helped me the most.
    Sure math and english were important, don't get me wrong, but the typing helped the most.


  • by fractoid ( 1076465 ) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @04:29AM (#29348441) Homepage

    Agreed. Since most people can't write, there's no point in having them touch type.

    How on earth does this follow? In my daily life I type an incredible amount; emails, online chat, code, slashdot and other forum posts... in comparison I probably write no more than 50 words a week on paper using a pen. I know that if I had to choose one of the two skills to retain while I permanently forgot the other ("You are attempting to learn the skill 'Threesome'. Both your skill slots are full. You must choose one of the following skills to forget: (1) Typing (2) Handwriting") then I'd far rather keep my current 90+ wpm touch typing than lose it in favour of being able to write shopping lists on post-it notes.

  • by Simon Brooke ( 45012 ) <> on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @04:37AM (#29348483) Homepage Journal

    When I was at school, we were taught binary arithmetic. Computers, we were told, couldn't do arithmetic in decimal numbers, only in binary, and if we ever wanted to work with computers we would have to be able to do binary arithmetic. Meantime, many of the girls in the school spent hours every week learning to use mechanical tabulator machines, because, as everyone knows, every business in the world needs an army of girls with mechanical tabulators to keep their accounts in order...

    Both these skills were completely obsolete before we even left school. Similarly with touch typing. Voice recognition and speech to text is now at a level where it's extremely unlikely that keyboards will be more than a vague memory for mainstream users by the time people now in school are thirty.

    For heaven's sake don't waste people's time in school teaching them to use ephemeral, obsolescent technologies. Teach them to use their brains, and teach them fundamental principles. Teach them to learn. Workplace skills can be taught in the workplace, and will in any case change far too rapidly for schools to keep pace.

  • by value_added ( 719364 ) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @05:39AM (#29348777)

    In the late 1970s I took a typing class in junior high school. Boys were actually discouraged from taking typing, so there were only a few other boys in the class. Despite the speed and accuracy requirements to pass the class being quite low, I barely passed, and the teacher advised me that I should never take a job requiring typing skills.

    I learned about the same time, but my experience was a bit different. I opted to take a typing class that was advertised as "business somethingorother" to prepare girls for future careers as secretaries. My reasons for taking the class were twofold. First, that's where the girls were, so what better place to meet one? Second, certain classes required that term papers be typed and not hand-written. I wasn't about to sit at home and do the hunt and peck routine so typing class it was.

    I met lots of girls, of course. The problem was I typed faster than most of them, so they resented me. The more "interesting" girls were hanging around outside smoking cigarettes, anyway. ;-)

    When computers came along, I felt right at home. My typing, same as you, has gotten better over the years. Funny how far learning proper technique can take you.

    Best class I ever took? Absolutely. And seeing how poorly people type on keyboards today, and listening to all the "ergonomic" complaints and excuses, I'd suggest that all kids be forced to take a typing class (and preferrably on a manual typewriter where they can discover the value of technique). Whether they grow up to work as secretaries or programmers, doesn't matter. Most all jobs (auto mechanics included) involve using a keyboard for part of the work day. And for non-working hours, how can anyone find or get porn effectively without being able to type?

  • Re:Watch Mad Men (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) * on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @07:27AM (#29349275) Journal
    "The world has changed in the last fifty years.The world has changed in the last fifty years."

    Dropped out of HS in 1975, I get about 35wpm with 2 fingers. Boys were not allowed to take typing or cooking classes. Girls were not allowed to take wood/metal-work or mechanical drawing classes.
  • by TaoPhoenix ( 980487 ) <> on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @07:36AM (#29349331) Journal

    When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to change their style of grammar from a classically respected form but tricky for modern people to understand when spoken, a decent respect for honest questions like yours posted on slashdot the land of the lost digital volcano of forgotten memes, a decent respect for the considerations of linguistic theory and etiquette impels us to declare the reasons for the modernization of grammar.
    I trust you got the reference. That's great fun to read with your favorite beverage at home, but try that in an office and watch the phone ring.
    Rudolf Flesch worked on the idea of slicing down corporate communication because finesse is despised rather than appreciated. I think he's the great-grandparent of Texting.
    See how much fun short word counts are? []

    (My periods are poor-man's line breaks until I figure them out later.)

  • by Narpak ( 961733 ) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @08:03AM (#29349475)
    I use all my fingers when I write on a keyboard. Back in school (we had a few classes were we practised touch) when I was forced to position my fingers according to the "correct method" I wrote slower and caught myself looking down on the keyboard now and again. Touch might be a fine technique for some, helping them improve their form and using all their fingers. But some, particularly those that use computers extensively for one reason (hobby) or another, can learn to type fast on their own and without "sticking to" a "correct method". Knowing what I know about the educational system I would say that informing students about the benefits off practising using all their fingers is good, but forcing them to use an approved method can have negative consequences. I distinctly recall our teacher arrogantly informing us that touch was the "only way" to truly write fast and that those of us that had used computers a lot before were basically handicapped. Despite this we, myself and two others in that particular group, beat him, the other students, and the recommended average words per minute score; when we wrote as we normally did.

    My point is that one should be careful what is made mandatory and how; the system doesn't allow for much flexibility.
  • by FlyingBishop ( 1293238 ) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @08:31AM (#29349669)

    I suspect two reasons, though a cursory Google search doens't turn up much justification:

    1) The frequency of the characters you type with the left hand is greater than that of the right, so it is a wear-balancing thing between the hands.
    I just ran the numbers with the Wikipedia page [], and it comes out to the left side's frequency being 56.101%, while the right is 42.311%. (I did not count 'b', since b is dead in the middle, though I personally use my left hand, so that's even more reason to use the right thumb.)

    2) The right hand has a wider range of motion, with the pinky ready to hit enter or backspace, while the left pinky is practically on the edge of the keyboard. I suspect that being more stretched makes the right thumb more efficient at hitting the space bar.

  • Both sides are wrong (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <> on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @08:41AM (#29349775) Journal

    Unfortunately, every time anyone tries to put "technology" into public schools, it fails miserably. Students are much better off taking notes from a lecture written on a chalkboard

    If they're busy taking notes, they're not learning. They're just stenographers at that point.

    The first thing I did when I taught computers (grades 4 to 6) was tell the students that we weren't going to be using the computers. At first, they were disappointed - but I made the discussions (note - discussion, NOT lectures) interesting enough that they quickly forgot about the "boxes". Good teachers interact with their students. We say that ne of the biggest reasons for failure in business is lack of communications, but our teachers are, for the most part, TERRIBLE communicators; is it any wonder that when people enter the business world, they accept the same crappy "lefture-style" mode of organizing work that dooms them to failure?

    Better to fire half the teachers, and give the students to the other half. I never had a problem keeping 30-some-odd kids involved - teachers who cry about having more than 15 should be fired because they are clearly incompetent.

  • Re:Watch Mad Men (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @09:23AM (#29350151) Homepage Journal

    Yeah, I kinda forgot about that. I graduated in 1974. I took typing as an elective, and I was one of only two boys in the class. We caught hell, because the jocks thought it was effeminate. Today, I guess all of those jocks search for their porn with the old tried and true hunt-and-peck method. That sure slows a guy down, I imagine. Learning to type was probably the best move I made in high school. In the Navy, I was able to sit in an office and fill out forms in a minute or two, that other people spent 10, 15, even 30 minutes doing by hand. That ability got me INTO the office, where I was able to sit on my butt while other people chipped paint, carried supplies, swabbed the decks, etc.

    Today, our local school system has "keyboarding" classes. The kids know how to do things with a keyboard that I never wanted to do. I still don't know what those 16 extra keys are supposed to do on my own keyboard - I'm perfectly happy with a standard 102 key! :^(

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @09:30AM (#29350219)

    My junior high school years ago had a required "computers and careers" course that we had to take for a trimester. Of course, with it being just a trimester, you had enough time to accomplish... well, nothing. But that's besides the point.

    One of the goals of the class was to get people to touch-type at 20 WPM. Big goal for a class of 8th graders. When we began doing the typing training, I found that I was able to easily do a hunt-and-peck at a consistent 35 WPM using nothing more than my two index fingers, and maybe a middle finger for backspace, or something to that effect. By the end of the course, I was able to do my hunt-and-peck, minus the hunt, at 70 WPM. My instructor was quite strict about the touch-type bit, but when he realized that in that class of 8th graders, I blew everyone out of the water, he let it slide for me.

    Ever since that class, I've never used touch-typing. I've continued to just use a few select fingers to do the typing, and I average ~120 WPM. I don't know many touch-typists personally who can do that. Shoot, in 5th grade on the night before a paper was due, I used to have my mom (a retired computer programmer) type my papers for me as I dictated them to her. She's a touch-typist (one who used to think she was so very fast at typing...), and I likely could triple her speed on a good day.

    Could I potentially be faster with touch-typing? Perhaps. Am I just fine without it? Sure am. Don't make touch-typing mandatory. I'm 100% positive that I'll still be faster with my typing method than anyone who was in that class with me. But I will never touch-type.

    Also, one of the first comments listed indicated that typing should not be forced upon students. I must say, I completely agree. How did I learn how to type as fast as I do? I trolled forums. Find someone you completely disagree with, and get into a flame war with him. Typing speed is directly proportional to RAGE.

  • by rbrander ( 73222 ) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @09:30AM (#29350231) Homepage

    I was in grade 10 in 1972, but my brothers, 7 and 9 years older, got the same treatment: forced to take "Typing 10" in a nearly all-girl classroom when the only point to it was as a first course towards a secretarial career. In my case, they'd turned it into a full-year course, the second half of which was beyond just typing and into various formats for business letters, filing systems, and so on. I got bored and managed to drop out after taking a test (51%, whew).

    Mom's point was that typing was a generally useful skill, like being able to hammer nails. She wasn't thinking we'd become secretaries, just able to type our college papers without pain. She'd taken touch-typing in the 40's and never been a secretary but never regretted it.

    Electric typewriters were still rare in 1972, the Apple ][ still in the future, so how much less excuse is there now for not calling it a "basic skill"? For me, it's been huge. A lot of IT work is very verbose and repetitive; I do SQL all day long some days, with tiresome table/column names like INFRANET_SW.WTR_HYDRANT.WH_VALVE_DIRECTION. (Or, yes, I can take my hands from the keyboard, move the mouse to the panel that's the list of tables, scroll down to the hydrant table, click on it, look down the column-panel for the column name, and click...which takes at least as long...if you touch type; or much longer than typing if you don't).

  • by Abuzar ( 732558 ) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @09:49AM (#29350447) Homepage

    People who have a tendency to make up rules for other people just because it suits themselves should be killed.
    It will help speed along evolution a lot faster.

    I tried learning to touch type several times, but it just didn't work for me. Not everything works for everyone, and making something mandatory just because you think it increases efficiency is rather draconian. Math, certainly. Science... eeeeeeeeeeeh, alright. But touch typing? Seriously, go find another hobby other than making up rules.

    Years later I started learning to play an electronic keyboard, and that combined with me typing at a computer started to hurt my wrists and fingers. So I did a little online research and switched to a Dvorak keyboard. Within a week the pain disappeared. I was able to play my music keyboard and type on my computer keyboard without a problem.
    What's more?
    I learnt to touch type! But without trying to learn it. It just came naturally with a Dvorak keyboard!
    So why not make it mandatory to have a Dvorak keyboard available to all students?

    When you start making up rules that affect large social systems, it is imperative that they actually reflect the needs and wants of that social system. It should always be a prime concern to alienate the least amount of people, if any at all.

  • by geezer nerd ( 1041858 ) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @09:54AM (#29350509)
    How does putting touch-typing BACK into schools involve introducing new "technology"? I took touch-typing in high school back in about 1958, along with all the girls who were preparing to be secretaries. The teacher was not sure what to do with a college-track student in the class -- I don't think it had happened before. We banged away on manual typewriters, nothing electronic, not even anything with an electric motor to assist. I don't think that qualifies as technology.

    I had no thought that typing would be career-useful; I just was thinking about the term papers I would have to do in university. I was preparing for a science or engineering career, and in those days that did not imply using a keyboard. But, like the original poster of this article, I have marveled at how much that one lowly course in high school had an impact on my ultimate career in software development.

    I actually don't know much about high school curricula these days. Has typing actually been eliminated? Or is it simply not mandatory? I think the idea of everyone being required to be proficient at typing is a good thing, but I am not sure it should be done as a course. I imagine in today's world many people are just picking it up.

  • by neumayr ( 819083 ) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @10:02AM (#29350613)
    As a bit of a reality check, let me describe what happened when my school got one of those "smart boards".
    The teacher that ordered it was rather technophile, for a teacher at least. Though also a little older, not quite up to date with current technology. However, when he tried to use it in class, he ran into all kind of problems. The software required a later version of Internet Explorer than was installed on that presumably vanilla Win2k that was supposed to run the thing. Not that it said so outright, it gave a cryptic message about some function not being available. Of course, he had no way of knowing what's the problem was, and sent for some tech support. They took the PC with them, and didn't return it for a week. So, it was back to traditional blackboards.
    After the PC was back, it was discovered there were applications missing the smartboard software assumed was there, e.g. Acrobat Reader iirc. So, it was back to tech support again.. And so on, thousands of problems came up that prevented the use of that shiny new toy, and after a while even that teacher gave up.
    So, you're saying it's stupid to not be able to install a smart board. I don't think teachers, or anyone except computer professionals, have to have this obscure knowledge about interpreting cryptic error messages, and as computer technology is often portrait as the solution to everything, more people run into that kind of problems, get frustrated and give up.
    Contrary to common conception, computers are not the solution to everything - way too often, they create problems where there were none, trying to solve non-issues.
    I have yet to experience a use of a smart board, where a traditional blackboard wouldn't have done the job at least as well, without requiring any training on part of the user.
  • by Jhon ( 241832 ) on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @10:04AM (#29350649) Homepage Journal

    I know that if I had to choose one of the two skills to retain while I permanently forgot the other

    An interesting side-bar:

    I have a friend who suffered brain trauma. He lost his ability to speak and write (aphasia). He could understand everything spoken to him. The unusual aspect of this injury is that his ability to communicate via typing was unharmed (this came out during a PT session using computers). He couldn't remember how to join words with a pen -- he couldn't remember how to say words to form a sentance -- but he could read and type. He could also read out loud. He keeps canned phrases on his phone which he'll read off.

  • by rossz ( 67331 ) <`ogre' `at' `'> on Tuesday September 08, 2009 @03:30PM (#29355453) Homepage Journal

    I took typing in my freshman year of high school. I was planning ahead and figured it would be a useful skill in college. The class was taught on old manual typewriters. To this day I am very rough on computer keyboards because of the pressure I had to use on those old keyboards.

    It was the single most useful class of my entire four years of high school.

A quarrel is quickly settled when deserted by one party; there is no battle unless there be two. -- Seneca