By David Ratner Jun. 20, 2005
Nofar, an 11-year-old fifth-grader at the Nofim school in Migdal Ha'emek, has been handing in typed papers and exercises to her teachers from as early as third grade. Until now, she says, she has been forced to type slowly, using just two fingers. From next week, however, she should be adept at touch-typing, at a rate of some 24 words a minute.
For his part, Yarden, a classmate, types at a furious pace. But while his hands glide easily and rapidly over the keyboard, he has a different problem: His skill comes from long nights of sending ICQ messages to his friends. He types fast, but his technique is faulty, resulting in many spelling mistakes.
Yesterday, Nofar, Yarden and another 16 fifth-graders took their seats in the Education Ministry's computer laboratory in a Migdal Ha'emek shopping center, earphones on their heads, their eyes fixed on the monitors in front of them, learning to touch type.
Within 40 minutes, most of the children had learned to position their hands correctly over the keyboard and where each finger is "allowed" to move. By the end of the second hour of the class, most had mastered touch-typing at a rate of around eight words per minute. By the end of the week, they are all expected to achieve a touch-typing pace of at least 24 words a minute.
"For children, it is like learning to ride a bicycle or to swim," the instructor says. "It's a skill they are acquiring for the rest of their lives."
The earphones on the heads of the children play a dual role: They relay instructions and they also isolate the children. The silence in the computer laboratory is exemplary compared to the noisy daily routine of an elementary school classroom with 40 children.
The Nofim school fifth-graders are among some 300 students who are participating in an Education Ministry pilot project aimed at teaching touch-typing at schools in the periphery. Half the children come from Jewish schools (two in Migdal Ha'emek and three in Upper Nazareth) and the other half from Arab schools (Kafr Qasem, Kafr Bara, Jaljulya, Jatt, Baka al-Garbiyeh, Jisr al- Zarqa and Umm al-Fahm).
Learning to touch type is usually associated with secretarial-oriented high-school courses, designed primarily for students for whom "the system" has designated a long and gray life behind a desk. Behind the Education Ministry's pilot project, however, is a very different rationale: It is an attempt to bring children living in the periphery to the forefront of technology and equate their starting points with those of students from "strong" communities.
Sight and Sound, the company that is coordinating the pilot in Migdal Ha'emek, has been teaching touch-typing in Israel for some 36 years, and it was the one that suggested the project to the Education Ministry.
According to Sight and Sound's Hagit Rotkovitz, a comprehensive study conducted in the United States toward the end of the 1980s revealed that teaching touch-typing in elementary schools had many advantages, with some 91 percent of students noting they prefer to write by means of a computer.
"Students who are adept at typing are more motivated to use a computer during the course of their studies and have higher self-esteem," she says. "Using a computer properly and knowing how to type improves writing skills and also reduces the extent of spelling errors. There is also the advantage of helping to increase vocabulary and improve comprehension. It is also a big advantage for children with illegible handwriting... In addition, touch-typing is said to help in the treatment of dyslexia."
Dr. Avi Levy, who heads the Education Ministry's education and welfare department, says the department is trying to invest as many resources as possible so that weaker socioeconomic sectors are not "left behind."
The touch-typing program in the Arab sector has been a huge success because exposure to computers in this sector is very low in relation to the Jewish sector, says Dr. Itzik Tomer, who is in charge of the Education Ministry's five-year program for the Arab sector. "More than the push to use a computer, I see the success of the pilot in the fact that the children have reported improved self-confidence when it comes to writing and reading, more respect for the written word," he says.