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Tuesday February 27, 2024

A useful skill

June 10, 2019

“Software is going to eat the world”, American entrepreneur Marc Andreessen once noted. The use of computers is revolutionizing media, shipping, finance, healthcare, education, and virtually all industries. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to teach our children critical thinking, logic, and computer programming alongside arts, and sciences.

However, today I would like to draw the reader’s attention to another skill, that I think our children should learn, which is easy-to-learn, can lead to learning more advanced skills with ease, and can improve the productivity in a wide variety of jobs.

Touch typing, the ability to type on a keyboard without looking by adeptly using all fingers, is that useful skill. Although one may ignore this as a seemingly insignificant skill but let me share three recent incidents that hopefully will show the importance of this skill.

A few weeks ago, I went to a government office for traffic licence renewal. As soon as I arrived, I became part of a large, slow-moving queue. From my observation, the delay in service was partially due to the ineffective typing technique of the responsible officer. He was literally hunting down keyboard keys. He constantly switched his attention between his keyboard, screen, and the paperwork on his desk. Not only did this pattern slow him down, but it also made his work error-prone. In the end, this employee’s lack of typing skills increased customer frustration which lead to debates. Eventually, this diminished the officer’s and his colleague’s morale.

It is not only government institutions that are affected by poor typing skills. In another instance, I saw a similarly inefficient computer interaction at a private medical clinic. The doctor was struggling to find keyboard keys and thus slowing things down for patients in waiting. The delay may seem minor but it adds up.

A third incident involving insufficient typing occurred when I spent significant time at a local software company with programmers who graduated from the best public-sector engineering university in Punjab. It was surprising to find that some of these programmers (who work with computers all day), could not touch type. Having programmed for a living, I can attest to the fact that touch typing increases productivity and lowers job fatigue for the programmer. Productivity is affected because hunting for keyboard keys adds an extra cognitive burden to an already high-cognitive-load activity like programming. Touch typing both frees the mind and attention, which the programmer can then use to be more productive at his job.

Learning to touch type is most beneficial when it is taught early in school. To my dismay, touch typing is not taught in our schools. Strangely, some schools do teach advanced computer skills, but without teaching basics skills (such as touch typing) first. Teaching advanced computer skills without a firm grasp on more basic skills is not going to help our children pick up advanced tasks easily.

Recently, a colleague told me about his son’s foray into computer programming (an advanced computer skill) as a fourth grader at an elite private school. When I asked if the child could effectively touch type, the answer was 'no'. This is a step backward because, although we must teach our children computer programming, without learning the basics first children cannot be intrinsically motivated to learn advanced computer skills firmly. But why is that the case?

Because without knowing how to touch type, children will divide their attention continually between key-hunting and complex task of programming. This slows and complicates the process of learning; as a result, children get frustrated, anxious, and bored. They may just give up. Just as learning a basic skill well can make one interested in learning the advanced ones, similarly, if children are taught to touch type earlier, they will likely be inclined in learning advanced software packages (used by businesses) and even programming languages with much ease.

Many people mistakenly believe that teaching kids to touch type is not essential in this age because most children learn to use smartphones and tablets early on. However, the use of these devices is not correlated with the effective use of a keyboard. Technologies like speech recognition are also not advanced enough to completely replace the need for typing either.

A workforce skilled in touch typing can help increase productivity, resulting in significant business savings. Let’s assume a person saves half an hour a day, at work, because of better typing skills. This can result in the saving of over a hundred hours yearly. For one individual, this equates to a savings of quite a few working days an year. Similar savings for thousands of people can trigger an increase in business productivity.

Teaching touch typing does not require excessive teaching resources. So this can be taught in most schools. Or even taken up individually. The abundance of free online resources can help as well. Touch typing could prove to be a tremendously useful skill we can teach our children to prepare for tomorrow’s digital challenges.

Email: wyounas@lumsalumni.pk

Twitter: @wyounas