Hands up if you hand-write a letter or a memo these days. You don’t do you? No one does. However it appears that in the local modern world there is one point when you can expect to write thousands of words at high-speed, and in a context where a stranger is going to read that writing and make a significant judgment based upon it: Welcome to the HSC exams.
I have long been an advocate of teaching children to type from a young age: It is an absolutely essential life-skill in today’s world. As my elder son’s school moves to a BYOD policy which sees every child have a device to take notes on and write essays on – typing is a skill which is both pointed and meaningful. In the six years between now and my son’s HSC I can only think that his dependence upon his computer and typing will increase, there simply is not a natural scenario where he’ll be needing to do more handwriting. The unnatural scenario, however, is that as the years pass he will have to hand-write more and more just so he builds up the muscles and resilience to navigate the HSC exams. Not because anyone thinks it’s more efficient; not because it leads to better teaching outcomes; not because anyone expects he’ll continue to handwrite large chunks of text after that set of exams: But just to get through the HSC. The answer is simple: We need to move our exam process up into the 21st Century.
A typed exam would require that all students had learnt to type – which comes back to my basic contention that typing is a crucial life skill. A generation would enter the workforce, where typing is all they will do, as practiced and competent typists. Exams would be easier to mark, less prone to error, and results would depend less on they neatness of your handwriting. It all makes sense.
Using computers for exams is not, I admit, without its complications. There’s an increased possibility of cheating to be considered, there’s the provision of enough computers to do the exams, there’s what to do in the event of a power failure. All of these are real issues, but they are not insurmountable. However, unless we get on with thinking about this we are consigning generations of school students to a fate where they undertake a pivotal exam with a hurdle that is both pointless and arduous.
I’ve spoken with numerous teachers and school administrators about this over the last few years. The response is always the same: Everyone agrees with the idea, but no one has any expectation of such a major change making its way through the behemoth that is the department of education. I have some more faith than that; less in the department itself but more in its inability to stand Canute-like in the face of a wave of change. Realistically though the first step in this process is not changing the exams themselves it’s getting kids to learn to type so that when typing in exams is introduced there’s a level playing field in terms of typing skills.