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Lack of access to online classes has led to vast disparity among children during the covid-19 pandemic. But could it be different if governments got more involved in the process? An example from China shows how state reforms to bring online tools in education can remove, rather than widen, disparity, if done right.

In a new working paper published by National Bureau of Economic Research, Nivola Bianchi of Northwestern University and his co-authors explore the outcomes of China’s 2004 reforms that connected its best school teachers to 100 million rural students through computer-aided learning.

Before the reforms, rural schools in China lacked quality teachers, and the good ones in urban areas were reluctant to relocate. But through technological intervention, the government brought the best teachers to rural schools without relocating them. This was made possible through satellite broadband connections.

Citing data from China Family Panel Studies from a decade after the reforms, the study finds that the academic performance of the beneficiary students had improved as they scored relatively more in maths and Chinese.

Computer-aided learning increased the duration of formal schooling by 9.3%. Students’ post-school life also improved as they were employed in jobs that required cognitive skills more than manual labour. The study finds that these students were less likely to work as farmers, which is otherwise the most common form of employment in rural areas.

Also, these students earned 59% more on average and were more productive across occupations. The computer-aided learning programme also reduced the rural-urban disparity: the gap in average schooling years dropped by 21% and the earnings gap narrowed 78%.

The study’s findings can have important policy implications for other countries that face disparity in education achievement levels in rural and urban areas.

Also read: The Effect Of Computer-assisted Learning On Students' Long-term Development

(Snap Fact features new and interesting reads from the world of research)

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