Internet narrows education gap for rural students #Oriental Outlook#-Sino-US

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Internet narrows education gap for rural students #Oriental Outlook#
From ancient to modern times, many famous educators such as Confucius and Yan Yangchu have stressed the need of fair education opportunities for everyone in both urban and rural areas.
In modern China, the country’s education has improved a lot in the past 70 years, especially in the recent four decades. However, achieving a high level of fairness in education has become a much more important and urgent task giving the persisting inequalities between rural and urban areas. 
The ubiquity of terms like “School district apartments” and “snowflake boy” just reflect the shortage and imbalance in education resources between different regions and schools.
The government has invested a lot to improve education infrastructure in rural areas and support rural teachers to work there. But there is little improvement in the situation because of the gap in infrastructure and other circumstances between urban and rural areas.
But the development of the Internet and information technology has shown another way to fulfill education fairness - online live lessons, which are different from video lessons.
Companies, nonprofit organizations and schools are seeing opportunities in helping the rural students. 
In the fourth issue of 2018, the Oriental Outlook magazine under the Xinhua News Agency ran a cover story on the development and state of online live lessons for rural students.
Below is an excerpt of the article.
In his report to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, President Xi Jinping said what China now faces is the contradiction between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people's ever-growing needs for a better life.
For the country’s education, Xi said, “We will promote the coordinated development of compulsory education in urban and rural areas, while giving particular attention to rural areas.”
“We will improve preschool education, special needs education, and online education, make senior secondary education universally available, and strive to see that each and every child has fair access to good education,” Xi said.
These expressions have moved Ren Chunrong, an associate research fellow with National Institute of Education Sciences. 
Ren followed her parents to support rural development when she was young, growing up and receiving education in countryside. She experienced the brilliance of rural education and also witnessed the loss of teachers and students there.
Ren was happy to see the country investing a lot in rural education in recent years, improving the infrastructure facilities and implementing a series of programs to train teachers and bring more good teachers.
She realized that the Internet has brought new techniques and methods for rural education. Some rural schools are providing online live lessons, bringing in high-quality education resources and fully using rural education resources.
“The Internet has played a real role in changing rural education,” Ren said.
Zhang Letian, a researcher with the International Research and Training Centre for Rural Education, said that “for rural education, the utilization of the Internet offers a rare opportunity.”
“The Internet will bring prodigious development for rural education. But it needs more exploration and efforts in terms of techniques and methods,” said Zhang Jiefu, associate research fellow with the National Institute of Education Sciences.
The Internet has played an important role in bringing good education resources to rural areas, narrowing the gap in allocation of teachers and resources between urban and rural areas.
Changing rural education
Following with China’s reform and opening up, lots of migrant workers moved to cities for work. They knew the good education conditions in urban areas and thus, they wanted their children to study in urban schools.
According to the Ministry of Education, 75.01 percent of students at compulsory education stage attended urban schools, 18 percentage points higher than the rate of permanent urban residents compared to the total population.
When a lot of rural students moved to urban schools, many rural schools were small. A small school usually has less than 100 students.
According to a 2015 report from the Institute for China Rural Education at Northeast Normal University, there were more than 110,000 small schools, and 33,900 schools had less than 10 students. 
Wang Xiong, deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute in Beijing, said that there was a development gap between the urban and rural areas, and that also applies to the education conditions.
Meanwhile, when more students move to urban areas, the cost for each student in rural schools would increase, which further worsens the improvement of infrastructure facilities and teaching equipment, Wang said.
Wu Zhihui, president of the Institute for China Rural Education at Northeast Normal University, said that 81.3 percent of urban teachers could receive trainings at city-level or above, but only 62.23 percent of rural teachers.
More seriously, rural areas find it difficult to attract and keep good teachers. "It is very difficult to get good teachers move to rural areas,” Ren said. More urban teachers had higher diplomas. 
National measures
The Ministry of Education started in 2012 to push for the construction of standardized schools for the compulsory education, renovating schools in middle and western regions, remote and rural areas. 
The ministry, in 2013, started working on an overall improvement of schools with poor infrastructure conditions.
From 2014 to 2017, the central government has allocated 133.6 billion yuan as special fund for improving these schools, and local governments have invested more than 250 billion yuan.
According to the Ministry of Finance, in 2016, the whole society invested 3.88 trillion yuan for education, and 84 percent of the central government education fund was used for central and western regions.
Ren said through a series of supporting projects, rural education conditions have improved a lot. “Even in remote areas in western regions, most of the primary and middle schools have new desks, buildings and advanced information teaching equipment.”
In 2010, the central government launched the special training program for rural teachers in central and western regions. 
The Ministry of Education said in September 2017 that more than 3.8 million rural teachers at kindergartens, primary and middle schools received trainings through the program. 
Except the trainings, the central government also arranged a special plan to encourage college and university graduates to work on rural education in 2006. The plan has attracted more than 590,000 teachers in more than 10 years.
In 2007, the central government issued a policy for Normal school students under which a student would enjoy free tuition and accommodation, and receive an allowance when the student promises to work as a rural teacher for at least two years.
Nearly 40,000 Normal school students and college and university graduates went to rural areas for teaching work every year due to the policy.
However, problems still exist. Many teachers went to rural areas because of the special plan and policy, but after completing the mandatory period of service, some returned to cities.
Utility of Internet
The rapid Internet development in recent years might solve the problem through the use of technology. 
“The Internet has changed the way people obtain knowledge and information, changing the way the rural society connects with the outside world, which will definitely bring new changes to rural education,” Ren said.
Educational informatization promotes the modernization of education, showing its advantage in narrowing the gap between urban and rural areas.
Lei Chaozi, director of the Ministry of Education’s Science and Technology Division, said at the second meeting of “Internet+Education” in December 2017 that since 2012, Internet-based teaching has helped the country solve the shortage of teachers for more than 4 million schools in remote poor areas.
He said that the educational informatization needs to be upgraded in the new era, and there should be an action plan for “educational informatization 2.0.”
Zhang Jiefu said that the information technology was added to the education system as a variable to promote the development and reform in the education field in the past, and the new action plan should let the variable to play an important role in promoting education fairness and revolution.
How to let the information technology become a force to drive the education reform is an urgent problem for the action plan to solve.
Zhang Letian said that the information technology will be a force for change in the rural education. “Frontline teachers have to improve their quality of information knowledge, which will help let the information technology play a role.”
It still needs more explorations and experiments to find ways to fulfill the information technology’s role in the education, he said. The country should further the reform of the education system.
New methodology
The government investment has brought facilities, such as electronic whiteboard, teaching machine, computer, projector and other equipment to rural schools. The equipment shortage gap was narrowing.
The Internet has started to play a role in the education development and reform since late 1990s, especially bringing equal opportunities for rural students following the improvement of infrastructure facilities in remote rural areas in recent years. 
In the first phase, as an important supplement to the traditional education mode, Internet education mainly focuses on video recording mode. Enterprises cooperate with good teachers and schools to record the lessons and sell on the Internet.
Under this mode, some online schools such as and have gained popularity. 
“The video mode is one-way communication and lacks of interaction, so could not provide more personalized answers and tutorship. The effect was not so ideal,” Lyu Senling, president of China Online Education Research Institute, said.
Till the second half of 2015, the online live mode became the mainstream of Internet education. Such a mode allows teachers to communicate with students online directly, and teachers could change their content for specific situations.
One defect of this mode is that online teachers offered the lessons in a limited time and they would not be involved in students’ offline study, leading to delays in providing answers and tutorship to students, while offline teachers cannot play any role when online teachers are teaching a class. 
In 2017, the dual-teacher pattern started to work. Internet education enterprises arranged good teachers in large cities to offer online lessons, and an assistant offline teacher would organize students, analyze the study situations, help answer students’ questions and correct homework.
The methods changed the divergence of online and offline teachers into a win-win situation, supplementing each other, which helped clear the hurdles for the popularity of Internet education. 
Not only enterprises are using such a method, some public schools have also started to use the method, especially the schools in rural areas themselves, such as the schools in Lijiabao township, Anding district of Xi’an , Shaanxi province.
While the country is changing the test-oriented education to quality education, students would not only learn the basic Chinese, English and math lessons, but also art, music and ethics.
But in Lijiabao township, there is only one professional music teacher and no art teacher among the total 14 schools, said Shao Jintang, the head of Lijiaobao township school. The live lessons in dual-teacher pattern have solved the problem, he said.

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