School children should be taught traditional touch typing in a bid to equip them with future skills required in the digital workplace, a former cabinet secretary has said.

Fergus Ewing suggested that the Scottish education establishment is “letting down children” by failing to embed the “essential skill” in the curriculum, which is regarded in other countries as “central to functioning in the modern digital age”.

But education chiefs raised doubts that the “significant investment” would be worthwhile.

Ewing, who was the SNP’s rural economy and tourism secretary until last year, said the Scottish Government had invested £25 million in the rollout of tablets and laptops to pupils in Scotland.

He said: “One would not hand out a violin or a trumpet to a child without arranging for that child to get tuition in how to play the instrument.”

The ability to touch type “allows the brain to concentrate on what one wants to say rather than on finding the keys on the keyboard”, he said.

Addressing the Education, Children and Young People Committee at Holyrood on Wednesday 19 January, Ewing said that courses on touch typing should be implemented in schools.

According to the MSP for Inverness and Nairn, it takes between 15 to 20 hours to acquire the necessary skill.

Greg Dempster, general secretary of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland, agreed touch typing was important “to an extent” but highlighted that devices are used “in a lot of different ways to support remote learning”.

He said: “For the younger age groups, they might be used to provide resources that are then printed off at home. The pupils might read the resources and interact with them on screen, so typing is only one element. Voice input is a more and more usable and useful way to put together documents.”

Douglas Hutchison, president of the Association of Directors of Education and executive director of education at Glasgow City Council, said he was unsure the investment would see a significant return, “given the way in which devices are used for learning.”

“Devices lend themselves to a far wider range of learning methods than simply using a keyboard to reproduce or input notes or to write essays,” he said.

Ewing said he was “disappointed” with the responses, given that touch typing is “a tremendous advantage” in a “huge range of occupations”.

He said: “Somebody who can touch type is 300 per cent more productive than somebody who cannot.

“The evidence shows that some children with special needs will benefit and that all children who are able to touch type develop greater confidence in their abilities.”

He added that in other countries, touch typing is a mandatory part of the curriculum.