Should schools teach touch typing or cursive writing to students?

It appears that fewer children are being taught handwriting to the highest level in schools, which I guess we can understand because of computerisation.

And interestingly, Microsoft has reported that 30% of British companies won’t hire a person who can’t touch type, which suggests that schools are moving into teaching touch typing.

Except that 41% of British employers say that not enough time is spent at school teaching typing skills.

All of which is a bit puzzling. When it comes to written communication there are only three things schools can do. They can teach handwriting or they can teach keyboard skills, or they can do both. To do neither seems to me not to be a good choice.

But there is a particularly sound reason for teaching handwriting to a high level, even in this age of digital communication, and that is because there is a clear connection between handwriting and brain development.

To be clear, this connection relates not only to the development of fine motor skills, but also to the development of how children learn overall. Those who have been taught handwriting skills – particularly cursive handwriting – develop much further and much more quickly than those who have not.

In a study conducted by psychologists and cognitive scientists at Indiana University, children who printed letters instead of just seeing and saying them showed brain activity more in keeping with adults than children.

In another study at the University of Washington, primary school children were found to write better sentences and wrote more and faster when using a pen and paper than when using a keyboard.

Rather oddly, schools involved in these studies which taught cursive writing only found that in later life their ex-students remembered information better when they copied a paragraph in cursive compared to both copying using printing or copying on a keyboard.

Put all this information together and the situation in education seems rather strange. Only around 10% of schools in England make any attempt to teach keyboard skills (which would have the benefit of helping the children get better jobs) and only about the same number teach cursive writing (which enhance motor skills and intellectual development).

Handwriting is taught, but not in the cursive manner. Computer skills are taught, but not touch typing.

However there does seem to be an increase in both the teaching of touch typing and cursive handwriting in schools of late.

Of course, I take particular notice of what is printed on paper and then needs to be stored, and that does not include much in the way of exercises written out in cursive script or typed out to help improve touch typing.

But occasionally we do have such material put in store, either in relation to handwriting competitions or to keyboard skills exams, where papers need to be held for a while.

I really hope we get more such materials to store. There is a certain joy in cursive handwriting, and I find these days the handwriting of most adults is utterly appalling. And although most teenagers claim that they can type, the reality is that they can’t. What they do is look up and down at the text to be copied rather than keep their eyes on the text while operating their hands independently.

As in so many areas of life, it seems that computers don’t replace what we have done before but instead offer different possibilities.

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