Finland Dumps Handwriting In Favor Of Typing
Written by Janet Swift   
Sunday, 23 November 2014

It seems incredible that in the 21st century schools are still teaching children to scratch marks on paper. Well in Finland they are taking a step in the direction of the future by giving up teaching handwriting.

Of course there is no way to know if this transition will be implemented in the best way. The Savon Sanomat newspaper reports that from autumn 2016 cursive handwriting will no longer be a compulsory part of the school curriculum. Instead the schools will teach keyboard skills and "texting".

Update: it appears that the translation should be not "texting" but writing using "printed" characters i.e. not joined up writing.

The idea of teaching proper keyboard skills to children is unquestionably a great idea, see Weak typing - the lost art of the keyboard. the idea of texting is a little more dubious and many will mourn the loss of a traditional skill like cursive writing. 

While some countries already provide an opportunity for students to learn to type properly, many others treat the whole idea as a low level skill that can simply be "picked up". Indeed many US schools point out that, because of early exposure to PC keyboards, the kids arrive already knowing how to type. Of course they don't. What they generally know is how to hunt and peck the keyboard quickly. 

At the end of the 19th century it wasn't clear what was the best way to type. There were a number of systems and a competition was organized where what we later came to call "touch typing" produced 126 words per minute. Soon afterwards touch typing was being taught at school and in business training colleges. 




Today touch typing is still slightly tainted as a skill that only the less academically able or motivated were taught. Programmers, for example, don't need to touch type because they are working at a higher level. In fact, over the years I have encountered many cases where learning to type properly would have increased programmer productivity more than any other single action.

Discovering the home keys and what the little lumps on the F and J key are for would be a revelation for so many computer users. 

When you can touch type it is like having a neural connection to the machine. You no longer have to think about typing and you can work much closer to the speed of thought. 

This is true of many creative tasks where language origination is central.

In the "old days" how well you could write cursive script allowed creative writers to flow their thoughts onto paper. Today the same is true of a keyboard - but only if you touch type. 

What about this "texting" business?

Today mobile devices are providing a new way to type - thumb typing. There currently isn't really any clever technique that can be taught to speed things along. It seems you just have to practice it and work out how best to do it. Should children  be taught alternative input methods? Probably not - as this is a case where they do seem to teach themselves - but this whole thing is far from clear. 

So what about a world where cursive writing is forgotten?

What do you do when your computer is dead and you need to leave a note? The death of cursive script probably isn't the death of handwriting, students will still be taught to print, but the death of doing it quickly and with style. Some no doubt will want to master it just for the sake of it - like driving a stick shift. 



Credit: Pearson Scott Foresman


And signatures? 

A poor authentication system at the best of times - good riddance. 

What do we get in return for dropping the writing system that we have used for centuries?

Imagine a world where every user could type fast. It changes the basic user relationship from consumer to producer. 

Perhaps in the not so distant future children will laugh when shown the writing instruments of the past - the ball point pen and the piece of paper. 


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