More than half of teachers feel ill-equipped to teach keyboarding skills and many students do not get a chance to practise typing regularly, prompting concerns about the fairness of moving NAPLAN writing tests online.
A survey of 4000 teachers as part of a NSW Education Standards Authority review of how writing is taught in NSW found 63 per cent of high school teachers and 44 per cent of primary teachers were not prepared to teach keyboarding.
Keyboarding skills will become increasingly important as the national standardised tests, NAPLAN, move online, yet teachers do not feel equipped to teach those skills.
Only one in 10 teachers explicitly taught keyboarding skills regularly or during most lessons, while a review of 13 teaching degrees found seven of them did not deal with teaching keyboard and word processing skills.
"There is minimal engagement of teachers in years 7 to 10 and 11-12 in explicitly teaching keyboarding," the report said. "Teachers need greater support and access to professional development to ensure greater confidence to teach these skills."
However, keyboarding skills will become increasingly important as the national standardised tests, NAPLAN, move online. Most schools are expected to do the tests online by 2022. Year 3 will write their answers by hand but students from year 5 will be required to type.
Keyboarding not only includes typing, but other areas relating to preparing assignments and reports online, such as creating graphs or charts for science reports.
A recent review of NAPLAN, commissioned by NSW, Queensland, Victoria and the ACT, said it was essential for students to develop fluency in the use of keyboards and word processors.
"There were recurring concerns … [about the] preparedness of some students in years 5, 7 and 9 'to do their best writing' in time restricted conditions, especially for those with limited typing fluency," it said.
The report recommended schools train students to type before year 5, and keep focusing on developing fluency throughout schooling.
Australian Catholic University Professor Claire Wyatt-Smith, the lead author of the NSW writing review and one of the authors of the NAPLAN review, said the equity issues raised by the keyboarding issue were "acute".
"The equity issues around equal opportunity for all students to participate with well-developed keyboarding has not been seriously addressed in Australian education," she said.
"The research has been well established that the demands of keyboarding, and fluency in keyboarding, assists writers online. You are thinking less about where your fingers are … than on the development of the idea."
But students do not have equal opportunity to learn keyboarding in schools. The issues range from access to keyboards, particularly in disadvantaged schools, to varying attitudes towards students' use of screens.
"It ranges from, 'I want young people to hand write and I'll only give students with learning disabilities a computer as part of adjustments', through to 'all students will be undertaking handwriting and writing on keyboards in curriculum areas and in their assessments," she said.
Curriculum authorities must specify what they expect from schools, Professor Wyatt-Smith said. "How much time does it get in an overly crowded curriculum? Who is responsible for teaching keyboarding in any curriculum area?"
Developing skills for using technology is mandatory in the NSW curriculum, but there are no NESA-endorsed teacher training providers delivering courses on keyboarding skills.
"WE are currently reviewing the delivery of professional development courses in NSW," said NESA's chief executive Paul Martin.
A spokesperson for the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, the advisory body on the national curriculum, said: "The NAPLAN paper writing test is not about handwriting skills and NAPLAN Online is not about keyboarding skills."
They acknowledged there were variations in how fast and well students could type, "just as there are variations in how fast and well a student can write by hand".
"While access to computers at home or at school varies, students’ performance during the online test is likely to depend on how familiar they are with the device they are using for the online test, rather than how often they use a computer," the spokesperson said.
Phil Seymour, from the Primary Principals Association, said remote learning during COVID-19 highlighted the digital divide in schools and households. He argues that year 5 students should keep using pen and paper for their NAPLAN tests.
"Years ago there was a push to do keyboarding skills, but it's fizzled out over the years with other things coming in," he said. "Several years ago you'd get release time with a computer lab, but we've gone away from labs.
"You don't get as much time [to devote to keyboarding], and many schools don't get enough devices for every child to do it either."
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