Typing – an important skill that we neither teach nor require

A student typing. CC0 Public Domain

I first wrote this piece about the value of typing back in 2013. It is still very relevant, so here is a slightly updated version.

Recently I was sat in a GP’s surgery waiting for him to type out a prescription for me. Until that point I had been nothing but impressed with his patience and knowledge. But then I saw how painfully slowly he attacked the keyboard, poking at it with a few select fingers as if it was too hot to touch, swiftly withdrawing his fingers to safe distance after each quick poke at a key.

The prescription that rolled off the computer was accurate, so what was the problem save for a few extra seconds passed in chit chat whilst he did the fingers dancing on hot coals turn with the keyboard?

It’s simply this. GPs spend a large number of years learning their profession, and the state puts in huge amounts of money to honing and then harnessing their skills. They learn to do all sorts of things, and their job inevitable involves large amounts of typing – yet how to type isn’t taught, isn’t required and isn’t expected.

Poor typists take up time and make more mistakes. Even small slices of time wasted add up quickly; the mistakes can be far more serious.

This isn’t just a matter of my personal experience or even just for GPs. It is widespread through both the public and private sector that jobs can be done quicker and better by people who can type, but typing skills are not asked for, not required and do not feature in even highly resourced or heavily administrated training plans, personal development programs or professional qualifications.

A while back I was chatting to a former senior civil servant and he expressed very similar views about the welfare system. Over a hot chocolate, he shared with me his top tip for speeding up the administration of our welfare system and cutting down on mistakes. Give the DWP staff who spend most of their day at a computer typing classes.

Look at the range of advice and training people do get, and you find typing sits in a weird limbo. Advice on how to adjust your chair and arrange your posture so that your hands are poised over your keyboard in a safe and comfortable way? Check. Guidance on which keys do what in the computer program you are using? Check. Training on how to quickly and accurately use your hands to press those keys? No, sorry – that’s not what we do here. Even though learning to type can be made into a fun activity.

So here is my question for those into our education policies; why do we value ensuring people can write by hand so highly yet value teaching typing so lowly, even though typing has become the dominant form of creating words for so very many people most of the time?

And here’s my question for those into improving public services: why do we employ so many people in jobs that are done better and quicker by skilled touch typists yet neither require such skills nor train people to have them?

2 responses to “Typing – an important skill that we neither teach nor require”

  1. I agree that typing is important especially these days and I agonise over watching my mother type, she uses only one finger on each hand and is so slow when it comes to typing. 
    Now I don’t type “properly” i.e. if anybody were to watch me type, my middle fingers wouldn’t be hovering over the f and j so that all my fingers can reach all the keys with ease, but I do type fairly quickly ( I don’t know how quickly) and I can touch type despite the fact that my fingers aren’t in the proper positions. 
    There is more than one way to type. Is mine the best way? Probably not but it is the best way for me. I always got confused when people told me that x finger had to be over the f and another finger should be over the j so that your hands can feel their way around the keyboard quickly. 
    Thats not how it works for me. I know exactly where all the keys are in relation to one another and I know where my hands and fingers are in relation to the keyboard which makes finding the right keys and the right patterns easy. Maybe they aren’t the right patterns or more correctly the most efficient patterns in the world but they are far better than most.
    With my mother, it seems that no matter how long she’s used her keyboard for, she expects the keys to have changed places and is always searching for the right key, which is what takes half the time or at least the majority of the time when it comes to slow typists. They simply don’t know the arrangements of the keys. Once you do that, touch typing and typing quickly becomes easy.

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