The Roots of Tomorrow’s Digital Divide: Documenting Computer Use and Internet Access in China’s Elementary Schools Today

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China & World Economy, Vol. 21, page(s): 61-79


china world economy

This paper explores China’s digital divide, with a focus on differences in access to computers, learning software, and the Internet at school and at home among different groups of elementary school children in China. The digital divide is examined in four different dimensions: (i) between students in urban public schools and students in rural public schools; (ii) between students in rural public schools and students in private migrant schools; (iii) between migrant students in urban public schools and migrant students in private migrant schools; and (iv) between students in Han-dominated rural areas and students in areas inhabited by ethnic minorities. Using data from a set of large-scale surveys in schools in different parts of the country, we find a wide gap between computer and Internet access of students in rural areas and those in urban public schools. The gap widens further when comparing urban students to students from minority areas. The divide is also large between urban and rural schools when examining the quality of computer instruction and access to learning software. Migration does not appear to eliminate the digital divide, unless migrant families are able to enroll their children in urban public schools. The digital divide in elementary schools may have implications for future employment, education and income inequality in China.

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