We examine the divide across four dimensions:
In 2009 and 2010, our research group conducted surveys of students in four sets of elementary schools:
The students were each completed a survey questionnaire which addressed computer access and use, the quality of computer education, and access to the Internet.
Urban-Rural Digital Divide
We discovered that though the urban-rural digital divide at school is modest due to regular use of computers in both rural and urban public schools, the digital divide at school was much wider when we tested for more advanced computer skills such as using educational software. The divide widened even further for student use of computers and Internet at home: urban students reported having greater access than their rural counterparts.
Rural-Migrant Digital Divide
As the rural to urban migration continues, will urban-rural inequities correct themselves as people from rural areas move to urban areas?
Our study indicates that this is not the case. In fact, students in rural public schools have better access to computers in school than students in migrant private schools. However, there is no significant difference in what is taught in computer classes between rural and private migrant schools. We also found that migrant students in large cities have better access than their rural counterparts to computers and the Internet at home.
Public Migrant-Private Migrant Digital Divide
Is there any way to narrow down the digital divide? If migrant students enter urban public schools, will the digital divide between urban students and rural students in China begin to narrow?
We found that urban students and migrant students in urban public schools have remarkably equal access to computers. Further, the digital divide in the homes of urban and migrant students in urban public schools is not wide. However, the digital divide between migrant urban public school students and migrant private school students is still fairly wide both at school and at home. The public migrant-private migrant digital divide is significant, and the kind of schools students attend play an important role helping narrow the gap.
Han-Ethnic Minority Digital Divide
Our study revealed that Han students in rural public schools have better access to computers at school than minority students in rural public schools. However, for all rural students, computer access at home is poor. Since the Han-Ethnic Minority divide is not as wide as the Urban-Rural divide, policy makers need to improve the use of computers in all rural public schools.
Our large-scale surveys of elementary schools in various parts of the country show:
The digital divide in elementary schools has implications for future employment opportunities, education, and income inequality in China. In order to recognize the full potential of all its students, China must take steps to narrow the digital divide.