Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic are the 3 ‘R’s that are taught at school. I was thinking about their relevance today.

Reading continues to be relevant. The volume of information available today is more than before. So you need to read faster AND smarter. (If there was one good thing that came out of my IIM coaching classes, it was the ability to read fast, and making it subconscious.)

But I wouldn’t say the same of writing. In the last 10 years, I have typed several hundred more pages than I’ve written. So have all my friends.

Yesterday, I was at a bank with a relationship manager as he was taking notes in paper and pen. I do the same on occassion. I looked at his notes later. I could not understand a single word. “Don’t worry, sir, I can read it. I’ll type it out and mail you,” he said. And he did.

Writing seems to have become a device for personal memory, not communication. He’s faster at writing than typing, perhaps. Or note taking is more convenient on paper. But for communication, he still prefers a typed format. So do I, and most other people.

Perhaps writing will fade. Perhaps not. I don’t know. But what I do know is that typing has become more important than writing. Yet, writing is taught more at school than typing.

(A broader aspect of writing, though, is expressing oneself. That will remain important, of course.)

The third R is aRithmetic. When I was 12, I could multiply four-digit numbers in my head reasonably well. I could recite 50 digits of Pi. I could do long division. Today, I can’t. Nor can my friends. Nor have we needed to. A good feel for the numbers has helped, but not the actual mechanics of the calculations.

We had an undergraduate course in statistics that taught us how to solve a linear regression problem. That skill went completely unused. I’ve never since used regression without a computer. We had a graduate course in statistics that taught us how to INTERPRET the results of a linear regression. That was worth it’s weight in gold.

This is not a critique of the three Rs. Rather, an attempt to re-interpret them. It’s about comprehension, expression and computation. Two decades ago, it was reading, writing and arithmetic. Today, it’s reading, typing and computing.

Computers will grow more powerful. It may be worth planning for it. Teaching the ability to use them can go a long way. A tool like Excel for general purpose computing gives incredible power in the hands of people. It’s worth training children for that.

If I oversimplified, I’d say children must learn typing and Excel.

Over the next few years, this is something I plan to work on. Making sure schools and parents do this. Any suggestions or leads you may have are welcome!