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Their future is electronic

Pupils' exams and classwork could soon be assessed online, according to the SQA

In five years, pupils could be sitting their exams online at a time and place of their choosing. The Scottish Qualifications Authority claims computerised assessment will be "routine" in a matter of years.

Martyn Ware, business manager for computer-assisted assessment at the SQA, conceded that any student, whether sitting an e-assessment at school, college or at home, would still need to be accompanied by an invigilator, although biometric security systems might become an option.

Students, for their part, will be expected to create e-portfolios in which they would store evidence of their school or college work (which could be used as appeals evidence) and examples of their outside interests and voluntary activities.

The authority's consultation, which ends next week, envisages Scotland becoming "a centre of excellence in e-assessment", demonstrating innovative and successful use of emerging technologies.

However, it also warns that there will be significant costs involved in developing computer hard-ware and software and staff training. Additional funding will have to be found from either the Scottish Funding Council (in the case of Higher National Certificates or Diplomas at FE level) or the Scottish Executive (for e-NABs), or by increasing entry charges for qualifications.

The authority might choose to increase entry charges across the board or only in the case of those qualifications for which e-assessment is available, thus creating a two-tier structure.

In the longer term, there may be the potential for cost-savings in delivery of assessments, marking and quality assurance. "The elimination of paper and transport costs will also contribute to the developing environmental and sustainability agendas," the paper adds. "In the initial stages of its development, e-assessment is about en-hancing the quality of assessment and not about saving money."

Bill McGregor, general secretary of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, said he agreed e-assessment was the way ahead in the long-term.

But he expressed concern about whether e-assessment could be delivered consistently across all education authorities, and about the cost of hardware and software.

Mr McGregor also had reservations about the vagueness of the Scottish Qualifications Authority's "five years and beyond" time schedule, as well as the opportunities e-assessment could provide for plagiarism and cheating.

Jim Docherty, deputy general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers'

Association, said he was concerned e-assessment might have an adverse impact on pupils' ability to write logically, as they would be required to produce fewer examples of extended writing. "An exam is not just about knowledge of a subject but knowing how to express yourself," he said. "In an electronic system of assessment, we must inevitably move away from that, at least to a certain extent."

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