Mandarin as a Second Language

Rural ethnic minorities are among the most disadvantaged in their ability to access educational resources. Once they fall behind in their schoolwork, they are unlikely to have access to help.

Despite the enormous economic gains China has achieved over the past three decades, millions of Chinese people continue to struggle in poverty.


China’s rural ethnic minorities are often seriously disadvantaged in their educational success. One key reason for this is that ethnic minorities must learn Mandarin as a second language. Textbooks are not properly translated into minority languages and bilingual teachers are generally undertrained.

The consequences of being unable to learn Mandarin in China are significant. Because ethnic minorities cannot speak Mandarin, they are at a disadvantage in both the school system and the labor market.

As part of the 12th Five Year Plan, the government is distributing computers to rural schools, including areas with large minority populations. However, teachers do not know how to integrate technology into the curriculum or maintain the computers, so the computers are often unused.

Computer Assisted Learning (CAL) provides minority students with an important opportunity to supplement Mandarin language learning. Studies in developing countries have shown that access to educational software can significantly improve student performance in disadvantaged schools. In REAP’s own studies, CAL raised math test scores and increased enthusiasm for school in rural ethnic majority Han schools.

Given the government’s ongoing investment in computer technology in schools, REAP wants to determine whether a CAL program could help minority students learn Mandarin.

A promising way to deliver remedial care and resources to learn Mandarin as a Second Language for ethnic minorities is Computer Assisted Learning


This project provides a high quality CAL program to rural minority students, with a focus on improving Mandarin as a second language.


We have three goals for the project: to design a CAL Mandarin as a Second Language curriculum; to find CAL’s impact on students’ academic performance; and to demonstrate that CAL programs should be scaled up in areas with significant minority populations.


We aim to achieve our objectives by implementing a CAL program in rural schools serving substantial minority populations in three national designated minority counties in Northwest China’s Qinghai province. We will then evaluate the impact of this program on student performance using a randomized control trial.

Rural schools in Qinghai will receive six to eight computers with Mandarin learning software, and teachers will receive training on how to use the computers to support their teaching

We implemented a CAL program in rural schools in three counties with large minority populations in northwest China’s Qinghai province.;

From these three counties, we selected 26 intervention and 26 control schools. Each intervention school received six to eight computers with Mandarin learning software installed. Students in intervention schools (approximately 750 students total) spent two to three hours with the software each week. Before the intervention, teachers in each grade attended a 3-day intensive teacher-training course. The training included lessons on CAL procedures and basic computer operations.


The program was quite successful, boosting Mandarin test scores in our intervention group.

Interestingly, the program also raised math test scores, even though the CAL lessons focused only on Chinese. Our running theory: because CAL improved the students’ reading levels in Chinese, they better understood their math textbooks. We are thrilled by this unexpected spillover effect.