EIGHT out of 10 primary and secondary pupils now have access to "real" computers outside school, not just games players, a forthcoming survey of 2,000 young people will show.
Most have unrestricted access to any Internet material in contrast to the filtering schemes deployed in schools.
Stuart Robertson, the HMI who heads the schools ICT team, said most primary pupils gained skills and knowledge at home but for most secondary pupils the experience came at school.
The statistics revealed how much teachers had to do to catch up. "It's no shame for teachers to say, 'I do not know how to do this', and ask a pupil. Pupils have the time to experiment and play that we as adults do not," Mr Robertson said.
Primary pupils in the study said the best thing about computers was the fun element, while secondary pupils used them mostly for writing essays and projects. Presentation and efficiency improved. Work was less messy and easier to change and edit.
Bt Mr Robertson rejected an attack on Scottish Executive policy on computers in schools. Bert Dunwoody, chair of Hyndland Secondary, Glasgow, said a target of one computer for every five secondary pupils was "fairly poor", and 10 years behind industry.
Mr Robertson replied that the targets were "very challenging" for some local authorities given their starting point. He added: "I would never advocate a future in schools where pupils sit at computers all day long. You have to bear in mind that education and the way people learn is multifaceted. People learn by doing, moving, touching, reading, talking, interacting with each other."
Mr Robertson believed Scotland was well ahead in ICT development. The Executive was putting in pound;88 million over three years, matched by an estimated pound;60 million in local authority spending. Four thousand teachers have benefited from the laptop and desktop pound;300 subsidy. The scheme is likely to be relaunched and extended.