Online education brings teachers to rural China

A student writes on a notebook. /CFP

In its mission to eradicate extreme poverty, China identified education as a key strategy. The thinking was that improving the standard of schooling, particularly in rural areas, would ensure that future generations would not fall into the same poverty traps as their parents.
However, even after the end of absolute poverty was declared, there remains a disparity between urban and rural education. One way of bridging the gap, many people believe, is with online learning. But is remote teaching really the answer? Can it make a real difference in preparing students for exams and giving them more opportunities in life?
According to government statistics, 99 percent of China's rural areas had access to the internet by the end of 2020. This greater connectivity, another element in the war on poverty, means better business opportunities for people living in rural areas. It also offers a link to better educational resources.

Eleven-year-old Dolma lives in Nangqian County, Qinghai Province, northwest China. /CGTN

Eleven-year-old Dolma and her family live in a small village in Nangqian County, northwest China's Qinghai Province. They have been herding yaks on the plateau for generations, and Dolma has been helping out since she was seven. Like many girls her age, she dreams of becoming a famous singer or actress.

A small village in Nangqian County, Qinghai Province, northwest China. /CGTN

But life in the village remains firmly rooted in the past. Herders make up the majority of the population, living in homes still heated by burning yak dung and coal. Until very recently, many of the children didn't go to school.
In my generation, hardly anyone in the community went to school, Dolma's father told CGTN.

Morag Hobbs (3rd L) with the Qiqu Prefecture Boarding School students. /CGTN

But he has bigger dreams for his children. Five years ago, the family moved to live closer to Qiqu Prefecture Boarding School. Dolma and her siblings are among 300 students there, attending lessons Monday to Friday. The school has just added English to the grade six exam. While this addition means, in theory, that the children will have more opportunities, it has put extra pressure on the teachers.

Desperate to improve the environment for both students and teachers, in 2019 the school began working with a charity to have English classes transmitted directly from Beijing. Despite occasional connectivity issues, these classes are opening students' eyes to a world beyond the mountains – one their parents had little or no access to.