Fewer pupils are opting to sit exams in computing - probably because they are becoming more computer literate well before that stage, the head of Scotland's exams body believes.
Anton Colella, chief executive of the Scottish Qualifications Authority, told a teachers' conference held by educational ICT specialist RM, that the number of entries for Standard grade computing fell almost 8 per cent this year - 17,395 in 2005, against 18,849 in 2004. In Higher computing, there has been a 7 per cent drop in entries over the same period.
"The level of computer literacy at S1 is very significantly higher than it was five years ago," Mr Colella said. "The challenge for the SQA, as we see a more literate population coming through the system and a more literate teaching force, is to consider how all this impacts on the day-to-day delivery of education."
The SQA is currently trialling online assessment for maths and modern languages in 120 schools. "The feedback from students is that they are far more motivated. They are saying: 'This is the way we are learning at home and in school'," Mr Colella said.
In future, ICT innovations might mean that pupils would sit exams in quite different ways. "We put rows of young people in an exam hall with numbers on the desks. Is that the way they learn?" he asked.
"We need to think how we can help them to engage with the process in a way that is more consistent with their lifestyle. I know there is a social inclusion issue here, but tell me a child who does not have access to a computer somewhere? They do have access."
Nevertheless, there remained challenges in the use of ICT, including the availability of equipment in schools themselves, the management of networks, the compatibility of different systems and security.
David Gregory, representing RM, picked up the theme of children gaining more computer skills and added that those skills were changing the way they learn. A typical child today interacts with five screens on a daily basis.
"What has started to happen is that a huge gap has developed between schools and the learning environment compared with technology outside school and what children are used to using," Mr Gregory said. Twenty or 30 years ago, the technology gap was the other way around.
In contrast to Mark Twain's comment that he "never let school get in the way of his education", Mr Gregory believed that children wanted to be educated in school. "It is just that sometimes what we do in the classroom does not always reflect what they hook into in the wider world. It may be that children start to view the schoolroom as irrelevant," he said.
He also questioned whether schools needed to reappraise the amount of time they devoted to keyboard skills. "How much time do we spend teaching children how to write? How much time do we spend teaching them keyboard skills? Do we have an expectation that when they leave school they will be able to touch-type? No.
"I am not suggesting that we don't teach children to handwrite, but is the proportion right?
"Should we teach children how to text? I am not sure. But it goes back to education and barriers. If you give a 12-year-old child a mobile phone, how long will it take for them to teach themselves to text?"
Mr Gregory said there was a growing shift in learning styles away from the predominantly auditory to more visual and kinaesthetic learning methodologies as a result of access to ICT.
The capacity of the "five-screens" child to learn visually had shifted massively, but it was questionable whether that shift had yet taken place in the classroom.