One often hears that China has the largest online population in the world. This misleading statement obscures the fact that access to information and computing technology is common only in China’s urban areas. Household computer ownership in cities is nearly 80 percent. Yet in many rural areas, that number drops to 2 percent. Across huge swathes of the poor interior the average child has never even seen a computer.
As part of its Twelfth Five Year Plan (2011-15) China’s government has committed to a massive upgrade in school computing infrastructure throughout the country’s vast and impoverished hinterland. In our Technology and Human Capital theme area REAP seeks to evaluate innovative ways to leverage that investment to best improve learning outcomes in China’s chronically underperforming rural schools.
A parallel goal of our work in this area is to narrow the extraordinary digital divide that separates rural students from their “wired-in” urban peers. As China continues to move up the value chain, rural youth migrating to the cities for work will increasingly require facility with computers and information technology in order to compete. Narrowing the digital divide today is therefore essential for providing a level playing field in China’s future labor market.
Our first evaluation in the Technology and Human Capital theme area was a 2009 efficacy study of a computer based remedial tutoring program called Computer Assisted Learning, or CAL. The trial was held in migrant schools around Beijing and aimed to determine whether CAL could help improve test scores among underserved students. A follow on study also measured the capacity for laptops to help students learn at home.
Thrilled with the positive results of the CAL pilot in migrant schools, we then brought CAL to rural schools. Our goals in doing so were two-fold: determine whether the results would hold in a rural context, and see if CAL could be effective in more than one subject area.
Finding CAL to be effective on both counts, we began a third phase of the project in which we integrated CAL directly into the daily curriculum of the school children. We did this in rural schools in Shaanxi Province and also in ethnic minority schools in eastern Qinghai Province. In both cases we also expanded the program to include more grades. This phase of the project is currently underway.
REAP is also exploring many other exciting avenues for leveraging technologies to improve learning outcomes, including tablet based platforms, open ended learning platforms, and new computer based instructional models. Check back soon to see how these pan out!
You can also click the projects below to learn more!