Why livestreaming classes won’t solve the problems of rural education

Editor’s Note

This is a summary of an article that originally appeared in 网易数读 on the 22nd of December 2018, under the title ”3600万流动儿童,和消失的农村学生” (36 million migrant children and disappeared students from the countryside). It is a response to a widely publicised project to bring classes taught by teachers from prestigious high schools to the countryside through live broadcasts.

Earlier this month, a Wechat article entitled “This Screen Could Change Someone’s Fate (《这块屏幕可能改变命运》)” was shared widely in China. It was about how study through live broadcasting has inspired kids in the countryside, where educational resources are seriously lacking. By attending long-distance classes online, kids in Yunnan’s remote Luquan County were able to access teaching materials and methods as high-quality as those of kids who study in the “key high school (重点中学)” in Chengdu City. Since the program started three years ago, 88 students have made their way to Peking University and Tsinghua University out of the 720,000 students from the 248 schools in the countryside that participated.

This Wechat article brought many people hope about the chances of reducing the gap between the educational resources of the cities and the villages, however, it has also brought the whole problem to light again. From 2013 to 2017, the number of students in villages has dropped from 41 million to 35 million and teachers there have decreased from 3.7 million to 3.1 million. More than 40 thousand primary schools, three thousand junior high schools, and 33 high schools were shut down during that time period. Lots of students have left school early and started working, while many others have become “floating kids (流动儿童)” following their parents to the cities in the hope of better opportunities. According to the sixth national population survey in 2010 there were 35 million “floating kids”, with most of them coming from Anhui, Henan, and Sichuan, and going to cities like Beijing, Jiangsu, Fujian, and Guangdong. These kids drop out of school at a rate of 50%, as claimed in 2013 by Liu Xiuqin, the secretary-general of the Guangzhou Qiming Organization (广州市启明关爱促进会).

Both children in the countryside and in the cities know that there are only a few key high schools, and if you get into one of them, you’ve got one foot into a key university. These key high schools are mostly located in the cities, and enjoy a massively different quality of education from the schools in the villages. Live broadcasting classes taught by these key high schools for students in the countryside surely bring some benefits, but only highly-motivated students can easily thrive by learning through a screen. A lack of interaction and advanced content make it difficult for average students to follow, let alone kids who are already behind. From various research on distant learning in general, there is insufficient evidence for proving the effectiveness of this approach in reducing education inequality. When we look at the impact on students who are below average, it’s even plausible that this approach is doing the opposite.

Translated by Alicia Huang (CDB)

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