An iPad2 won’t make you literate

I was watching a TV ad for the iPad2. It showed a small girl using the iPad with a piece of software that was clearly based on old-school methods of teaching children how to write. You know the kind of thing, there are three guide lines and children have to make the stalk of an “h” touch the top line, the tail of a “g” reach the bottom line and all the others sit somewhere in between.

Curiously, the girl in this ad was writing the word with her finger. So, there’s no way for her to understand how to hold a pen or pencil to form the letters; to feel how different that is from simply tracing the shape with your fingertips. Nor does the app seem to teach her about word formation, meanings, spellings or even as much of a reading aid, as there didn’t appear to be any context or supporting images to help with learning.

So what was the ad trying to achieve? Its takeaway message certainly seemed to be that  handwriting is really rather obsolete now that there’s all this lovely touch-pad technology. If that’s really the case, the little girl would be much better advised to learn how to touch-type on a QWERTY keyboard (or whatever is applicable in her home country). If she learned from a young age how to use a keyboard swiftly and accurately, how much more of a help would that be with homework and in later life?

I often work with IT and other technology users, who are often highly-skilled individuals, but it still pains me to watch them doing the two-finger keyboard prod when they need to type up some actual words. When I was at school, I chose to do an external typing course, which was boring as hell, but has been one skill I’ve never regretted acquiring and I’ve always been able to use. It’s long since ceased to be seen as the sole preserve of the secretary or typing pool. Most people in office work these days are expected to manage at least a portion of their own keyboard output, whether it’s emails, blogs, documents or any other kind of electronic content. Also, as our education system increasingly relies on kids having computer access, typing essays and so on, wouldn’t it make sense for proper keyboard skills to take their place alongside handwriting lessons in our schools?

Just don’t try to teach them on an iPad keypad. When it comes to keypads, iPads are much more akin to mobile phones than to standard computers. The keypads are simply not able to respond adequately to the keystroke speed of a touch-typist. Actually, all they are suited to is the old two-finger prod. So, whilst we are happy to go on expecting ever more speed and slickness from our technology, we’re equally happy not to bother learning how to use it properly, but rather to allow ourselves to jab wildly at it with our slow and stubby fingers.

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