I have been having a very interesting debate with some friends on Night Publishing about education. It all started when someone informed us that a state in the US had decided to teach young children keyboard skills instead of learning to write with pencil and paper.
Well, this undoubtedly is going to lead to the end of civilization as we know it! What horror! What catastrophe! Where will it all end?
I, on the other hand, think it is a wonderful idea. A number of children will probably already be familiar with a keyboard anyway. Bearing in mind they don't start school in America until the age of 6. There are many toys that already have keyboards, let alone computers at home.
I will always remember being told by my daughter's primary teacher that when she was told to hurry up with her work her answer was 'but I've got a slow pencil.' All adults find this highly amusing but what the poor child meant was she was struggling to get the pencil to do what she wanted it to do. Had she had a keyboard she could have punched in the letters she needed much more easily.
The ability to write does not equate to the ability to learn. Young children learn from what they see, and they see printed words in books and on flashcards and whatever else the teacher provides. They do not have to read hand written words, or if they do they are usually really neatly printed. No five year old would be able to make out my handwriting! So why force them to use a pencil or pen when they have not developed the dexterity to manage this?
Just because someone learns to type first does not mean that they will not later go on to write with a pen. Just because in the past everyone learnt to write first doesn't mean this should not change. I learnt to write, then learnt to type. Why can it not be done the other way round?
When I moved from junior to senior school it was in the days of inkwells and stick pens with disposable nibs. Every child ended the day with ink stained fingers. Later we progressed to having our own fountain pens. Biros were an abomination as far as the teachers were concerned. Thank heaven those days have gone. If you want to use a fountain pen, fine, but don't impose one on everyone. My handwriting certainly does not improve with a fountain pen, I've just tried one.
The important thing in education is to engage with the children and to get them wanting to learn, and most children do want to learn. Struggling to write can sometimes hamper a child's enthusiasm. There is nothing worse than not being able to express oneself. Spellings can be learnt by typing lists of words as easily as writing them (ideally this learning machine should not have a spell checker but it can let the child know if it has made a mistake). This can be made to be much more fun than old fashioned methods. And at some point in each child's school life a moment will occur when he or she WANTS to write and will learn the skill in their own way.