As with many skills, experts agree that the younger we are taught to type, the easier is it is to pick up
If Mike jived. If Mike jived. Rude dunce. If Mike jived who was a rude dunce. Before you ask, no I don’t hold a personal grudge against a ballroom dancer. I’m actually practising my keyboarding skills.
Believe it or not, these are the beginning phrases of a programme designed to teach children how to touch type correctly – and it’s harder than you might think.
Sure, we can all bash away at a keyboard. But how much time do you think you waste on typos and hastily-typed errors? Computers may have been sitting in most of our homes, schools and offices for around 30 years now, but touch typing – that is, the ability to use all of your fingers across a computer keyboard to write sentences without having to look down from the screen – is something many of us still struggle with.
But as screens and phones increasingly dominate over handwriting as our main medium for communication, more and more people are clocking on to the benefits of touch typing.
In short, if we can train our fingers to type without having to think about it, we are able to work more efficiently because our thoughts are clearer (Photo: AFP/Getty)
Touch typing in schools
In 2014, it was reported that schools in Finland – long established as a world-leader in progressive, quality education and the envy of all countries taking part in annual Pisa rankings – took the decision to ditch handwriting lessons in favour of getting pupils fluent in their typing skills.
And it’s not as if schools in the UK haven’t attempted to get behind the skill. In fact the programme I am using to taunt poor Mike, KAZ Type, is exactly the same one (give or take a few updates) that I sat using in my school IT lessons around 18 years ago.
More recently, prestigious Brighton College and Eton both made headlines after parents at the fee-paying schools insisted typing was brought back onto the timetable.
But while the Department for Education say touch typing is encouraged as a part of computer literacy, there is still no specific reference to it on the state curriculum.
Brighton College and Eton both made headlines after parents at the fee-paying schools insisted typing was brought back onto the timetable (Photo:/AFP/Getty)
An essential skill for the 21st century
This, according to Keene Braganza, managing director of KAZ is a mistake. “Schools tend not to teach typing skills these days. But it is now more essential than ever for students to learn, since employers expect productivity from the go,” he tells i. “We truly believe touch typing is an essential 21st-century skill. And the earlier it is learned, the better.”
Sue Westwood, a child psychologist, now runs another touch typing programme called English Type. She agrees that schools and the Government should be prioritising touch typing by making it a regular feature in lessons, which she says can have added benefits across pupil attainment.Read MoreHandwriting is often dismissed as a dying art despite Meghan Markle’s ‘perfect calligraphy’
“It’s incredibly frustrating,” she tells i. “These days many schools teach coding, because it’s fashionable. But to be a professional coder you have to be able to keep your eyes on the screen – so you’ve got to be able to type using muscle memory,” she adds. “Schools really are wasting their time not teaching typing.”
KAZ and a number of similar programmes continue to be taken up by schools and even used in some offices (though it is unclear how many) to encourage computer users to learn the correct finger patterns, That is, index fingers touching the “f” and “m”; middle finger roaming to get to the “i” and “k” and “e”.
Touch typing makes us healthier and more efficient
It may seem trivial, but the evidence shows that learning these patterns can save time and energy, making us healthier – with a lower risk of repetitive strain injuries – and more efficient.
As a rule, programmes like English Type and KAZ aim to get users up to 30 accurate letters per minute. That’s one letter every two seconds, which seems fairly slow.
But contrary to popular assumption, touch typing is not all about speed, Westwood explains. “The single most important thing is if you can type without looking down. If you can do that, what’s happening in your brain changes. Muscle memory is a physical skill – so once its trained, it becomes unconscious and automatic. It frees up your conscious cognitive resources to focus solely on the task in hand,” she says.
In short, if we can train our fingers to type without having to think about it, we are able to work more efficiently because our thoughts are clearer. “We also know that by the time you get to 30 words per minute it’s a fluid process,” says Westwood. “The fingers are moving with no buffering going on. And from that point you get faster naturally.”
Touch typing was once seen as an essential skill (Photo: Topical Press Agency/Getty)
It’s never too late to learn
As with many skills, experts agree that the younger we are taught to type, the easier is it is to pick up. On top of this, there appears to be a growing generational divide. A recent study of 37,000 mobile phone users by the University of Cambridge, and Aalto University in Finland found that 10 to 19-year olds were able to type at a rate of 10 words per minute faster than participants their parents’ age.
The difference in typing speeds between mobile devices and physical keyboards is also said to be decreasing.
It is true that years of bad typing habits put adults at a disadvantage, Westwood says. But she adds: “It’s absolutely possible to learn to touch type at any age.” Just last month it was reported that even former Washington envoy Sir Kim Darroch has decided to use some of his new found spare time to learn how to type properly.
And Westwood says she personally knows computer users in their seventies and beyond who have mastered the skill in no time – encouragement enough to keep me going with “if Mike jived”.
“It’s never too late to learn,” she insists. “And just think how much time we could save – for ourselves, for the NHS, for other public services… if we could all type efficiently.”