Using Educational Technology to Narrow China's Educational Divide

ocal girl
P H Yang


Rural students in China lag far behind their urban peers in virtually every measure of success in school.
A key reason urban students succeed is the incredible support they receive:

  • - Experienced and committed teachers
  • - Engaged parents
  • - Well-equipped schools
  • - Cram schools and tutoring companies

Few of these resources exist in rural areas, where parents migrate for work, schools struggle with funding, and teachers wait for a ticket to the city, leaving their poorer quality colleagues behind to teach rural students.
Educational Technology (EdTech) holds abundant promise to narrow China’s – and the world's – educational divide, by possibly bringing many of these resources within reach of rural students. But virtually no research has so far determined what platforms are most effective.
REAP has pioneered evidenced based research to determine the effectiveness of EdTech and help policymakers understand the value of extending useful programs to the neediest areas.

Remedial Tutoring Software Offers a Glimpse of EdTech's Potential

REAP’s EdTech agenda began when we partnered with Dell Technologies to measure the impact of remedial tutoring software on rural student performance. We call the software OCAL, or “online computer assisted learning.”
The results were big: children learn about an extra semester’s worth of learning when using the software on school computers. The effects were similar in multiple subject areas and persisted even after two years of use.
Since publishing these results, we have shared the tutoring software with hundreds of school districts and hundreds of thousands of children. 

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Students interact with REAP's OCAL software in rural China. Rural Education Action Program

Partnerships Help Us Reach More Rural Kids

Since the beginning of our work on EdTech our goal has been to bring proven solutions to as many disadvantaged students as possible.

We have partnered with Dell, China’s government, non-profits, universities, and other key stakeholders to optimize OCAL, update and expand the software, and make it available on more devices. In February, we launched a mobile OCAL phone app to allow children to use the software at home when schools were closed due to COVID-19.

COVID-19 Awakens China and World to Need for Distance Learning

The sudden, almost-complete shift from school-based instruction to remote instruction in response to COVID-19 is unprecedented. All over the world, schools and teachers have turned to EdTech to help kids learn.
Even in normal times, however, international research was unclear about how well EdTech could substitute for school-based instruction.
The question is now even bigger and more urgent than ever before: since virtually ALL instruction is remote, to what degree can EdTech help kids stay on track?
REAP has been looking at this issue carefully since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in China. In the early days of the pandemic we launched an in-depth, longitudinal survey of students, families, and teachers looking at how students are using EdTech, what challenges they are facing, and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected student learning and human capital development in China.


Here's what our survey data show so far:

covid ocal survey infographic

Expanding Our Scope and Reaching More Children

Accelerated adoption of EdTech in urban schools after the COVID-19 crisis may even widen the educational divide, as less equipped rural schools struggle to adapt. 
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Given the high stakes for learners in rural schools, REAP has launched an ambitious research agenda to better understand EdTech's potential role in the educational lives of children. 

As part of this initiative we are planning interventions to measure the impact of multiple platforms that could help struggling students and schools keep up. Some of these pioneering projects that we are rolling out with new partners include:

  • - AI-powered adaptive tutoring software
  • - Asynchronous distance learning platforms
  • - Updated computer assisted learning software
  • - Applications to facilitate parent-teacher interaction, and more 

REAP's partnerships within China mean proven solutions can be rapidly scaled in rural schools to reach millions more students.
The possibilities and pitfalls of EdTech adoption are more consequential now than ever before. We need to ramp up efforts to see which programs work and deploy them quickly to those who need help the most. 

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