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Editor’s Note: China is undergoing extensive growth and development with up to thirty million people each year moving from rural areas to the cities. This poses critical requirements for rural education to be comparable to education available in the cities. This paper describes programs in Gansu Province to reduce the gap between big-city and rural education in primary and secondary schools.

 The Rural Distance Education in
Primary and Secondary Schools in Gansu, China

Meiting Bai


This paper gives an overview of the development and status of Distance Education in Gansu China since the launch of the program in 2004. It reports three models in Distance Education, the funds from international, national, province and local government, achievements of the project, including infrastructure, teacher training on professional and information techniques, benefit to students and the social impact. This article concludes by describing the prospect and challenges for Distance Education in Gansu China.

Keywords: rural Distance Education, interactive and multimedia, model, primary school, secondary school, Gansu, China.


Distance Education is planned learning is received in a different place from where the teaching originates. As a result requires special techniques of course design and instruction, and electronic communication to deliver instruction and facilitate interaction, as well as special organizational and administrative arrangements (Moore & Kearsley, 1996). The development of Distance Education can be divided at three stages; the first, via mail system (1950s-1970s), the second via radio and television (1980s-1990s) and the third stage is interactive and multimedia via the Internet, (2000-) (Education project,2008, Robinson, 2008). Distance Education plays an important role in education and economic development in China, especially in rural areas (Jelen & Alon, 2005; Wang & Crook, 2006; Wang & Kreysa, 2006; Zhang & Hung, 2007; Zhao, 1988). In China, 70% of the population inhabits in rural areas with 160 million students in primary and secondary schools (MoE,2004). The coastal and eastern parts of China, rural and urban, have wide economic and social gaps. The Chinese government has provided special funding for projects in western and rural China, using Distance Education as one of key strategies for achieving development goals and shortens the gap among districts.

Gansu is one of the poorest provinces located in northwest China at the junction of the Loess Plateau, Inner Mongolian Plateau, and Qinhai-Tibetan Plateau. About 75 per cent of the population of 26.4 million is rural. Gansu Province covers an area of 450 km2 ; much of the province is dry and dusty with serious soil erosion. Gansu is a typical plateau area with many mountains. There are 3.5 million ha of cultivated land, more than 70% of which is rain-fed and less than 30% is irrigated. The majority of the population is Han Chinese, but there are 44 ethnic minority groups, the largest being Tibetan, Hui, Dongxiang, and Mongolian.

Gansu has carried out the Distance Education program at an international level (EU-China Gansu Basic Education Project - jointly funded by the European Union and the Chinese Government from 2001 to 2007), national level (National Compulsory Education Scheme in Poor Areas, National Modern Distance Education Program in Rural Areas, and Modern Distance Education Program in Western Primary and Secondary Schools from 2003 to present) and province level (Education project,2008). These project great improved education quality and the education environment in rural areas of Gansu. School enrolment rates have greatly improved over the last decade, and in 2006 were 98.3 per cent for primary education and 88.3 percent for junior secondary. Most teachers are qualified according to old or new national standards (i.e., 96% of primary and 88% of junior secondary) though teaching quality varies (Introduction of Gansu Education, 2006; Robinson, 2006).

Distance Education Models

Like the whole country of China, three rural Distance Education models have been used in Gansu Province. Model one is to establish teaching disk player sites with a 34 inches color TV, DVD-player and a set of teaching materials including video CDs. Teachers were trained by watching disks with contents and teaching resources designed and performed by the excellent teachers from the whole country. For example, Chinese courses for primary education were recorded by the top ten teachers from the national course teaching competition. Together they designed how the course should be carried out and one who good at expression was selected to give a lecture in the video. The simulated class was about 15 minutes and may include 3 to 4 parts, or even more. Teachers can use it in their class directly, they can watch part of the video with their students, then stop, discuss, and continue the video. Therefore teachers and students in the live class could benefit from communication in the video. This methods has advantages in music and English learning. The key point of this model is the quality of the disk. Each site cost 3000 RMB – about USD 500 (Model 2005; Wang, 2005). This model was usually used at earlier stages of rural Distance Education.

Model two is satellite acceptor, the equipment include satellite reception and delivery system, a TV, computer, DVD-player and teaching resources for all grades in primary and secondary school. China Education Satellite sends teaching materials like multimedia courseware to all sites. This model has the function of Model 1. Teachers can watch and copy the teaching material from TV and use them in their own class. The resources were evaluated by experts before being sent to the site and only high quality and appropriate material is used. The key purpose of this model is firstly, the country should have good resource and secondly, all of these materials are free to the site. Each site of this models cost 16,000 RMB (Model 2005; Wang, 2005).

The third model is on line learning and teaching. The equipment involves computers linked to the internet, a multi-media classroom, model one and model two equipment and materials. The basic character of this model is information technique learning, learning on line and computer assistanted teaching. Teachers can be trained from on line real time courses, down load teaching materials, edit on the computer, prepare teaching plan etc. With this model students could operate the computer and learn in the same way as the students in cities. Hands-on experience with computers improves interest in learning and students learn quickly. Each site cost 150 000 RMB (Model, 2005; Wang, 2005).This model is not widely used and will be developed further in future.

Distance Education organization in Gansu Province

There are 5 levels for rural Distance Education in Gansu province. The satellite of Education, China Education Station and China Education and Science Research Net are the first level, they afford and transmit the original education resources. Gansu Distance Education (Jointly founded by Northwest Normal University, Gansu Radio and TV University and Gansu Education Technology Center in Gansu on March, 2001, Guangmin Daily, 2001) and Gansu Education and Science Research Net,Gansu Education Information Center are the second level. These accept, combine and transmit , resources. District and County education information centres are in the third and four level; they accept, combine and further transmit the resources. The computer classroom, multi-media classroom and school network are the final receptors in this system and will feedback to the previous levels (figure 1).


 Figure 1. The organizational structure of the Distance Education system in Gansu

Note: Updated from http://www.gs.xinhuanet.com/jdwt/2005-12/16/content_5835962.htm

Financial Input and Achievements

From the year 2004 when the Gansu government began to carry out national Distance Education in rural areas of China, to October 2007, 363 939 000 RMB has been allocated to Distance Education in rural areas. The Chinese government funded 250 153 000 RMB and Gansu province and district government jointly funded 56 781 000 RMB and 57 005 000 RMB, respectively (Gansu Daily, 2007). The EU-China Gansu Basic Education Project (EU-China GBEP) invested 15 million Eurodollar to alleviate rural poverty in the poorest 41 of Gansu Province’s 86 counties and the Chinese government jointly funded 2 million Eurodollars and provided 103,550 scholarships for poor children to enroll to school (Robinson, 2008). As a result, education quality was greatly improved and more children had the opportunity to go to school. About 15,528 schools in rural areas completed Distance Education installations and more than 3,955,200 students benefited from Distance Education. Almost all secondary schools have one computer room and most primary school have a satellite accepter teaching system. The ratio of students to computers has improved from 29:1 to 13:1 (Gansu Economic Daily, 2005). Totally about 86.08% primary and secondary schools in rural areas have Distance Education systems. According to the Gansu Distance Education office, all primary and secondary schools in rural areas will be served by Distance Education systems by the end of 2007.

At present, Gansu has set up a platform of Distance Education and a channel to send high quality teaching resources to meet village needs. This technique for course delivery has been popularized in secondary schools where it is used in combination with live instruction. Twelve province level centers of Distance Education for teachers training wertr set up to train all  teachers from rural areas on the professional content and use of information techniques. There were 11,893 teachers trained. This effectively resolved problems in teaching and greatly improved the teaching quality within rural areas.

Tianshui is one of the earliest districts to start Distance Education in Gansu and now is the biggest district of Distance Education network. It started distance and information education in 2000. The district government raised funds in various ways, like applying for projects from the province and nation, seeking donations from people, increasing funds from the department adding education fees. By the end of 2005, there were 1596 schools with Model 1 classrooms, 1236 school with Model 2 classrooms and 179 schools with Model 3 classrooms in Tianshui. To make sure equipment was being used efficiently, Tianshui education bureau established a ‘Three Put Into Place and One Improvement’ policy .The Three Put Into Place is 1) equipment put into classroom, 2) teaching plan put into daily curriculum ,and 3) user name put into record. The ‘One improvement’ is to improve teaching quality via Distance Education (Table 1).

Table 1
Distance Education in Dome Districts or Counties of Gansu Province



Percentages to all school (%)

Input (RMB)





45 000 000

Tianshui, 2004




2 660 000

Zhangye, 2005




20 000 000

Huining, 2005




5 937 000

Minqin, 2005




4 065 000

Minle, 2005




3 000 000

Yongchang, 2005




16 060 000

Linze, 2005


15 528


363 939 000

Gansu Daily, 2007

Linze is another pioneer to develop Distance Education in a whole county. It is the first county that established its own education website in Gansu Province. The local government funded
16 060 000 RMB from 1997 to 2004, which is 31% of Linze’s GDP in 2004, the year they set up their own education website. 100% of the schools in Linze are now using Distance Education methods (Linze, 2005).

Teacher quality is one of the key factors determine the participation rates of children in schooling and the quality of their education. It is also an important element in remoting social justice in terms of educational quality in rural and remote areas, where teachers tend to be less qualified than their urban peers and not well resourced and supported. Implementation of Distance Education enables teacher training to be carried out on a large scale with high efficiency and quality. All teachers in primary and secondary school can receive training and further education, which can lead to a remarkable improvement of the overall quality of primary and secondary school teachers. Only EU-CHINA GBEP directly benefited 105,000 rural-area teachers and head-teachers and indirectly benefited 2.6 million students as they experienced improved teaching. This does not include students that experienced Distance Education directly (Robinson, 2008).

Huining is one of the poorest but also is one of high quality education counties in China. The Nine-Year Compulsory Education (NYCE) had been universalized in this county since 2004. Gansu province put more than 20 000 000 RMB to develop Distance Education in this county. By the year 2007, more than 12 000 teachers and 160 000 students had benefited from the policy. All primary and secondary schools in Huining county has been covered by Distance Education Network (Table 2).

Table 2
Students and Teachers Benefited from Distance Education
in Some Rural Areas of Gansu Province





Huining county

160 000

12 000

Huining, 2005

Minqin county

70 000


Minqin, 2005


22 000


Ganzhou, 2005

Gangou (town)





3 955 200

>105 000

Gansu Economic Daily,
2005; Robison, 2008

While Distance Education is a main platform for providing professional development for rural teachers, teachers should be trained, not only in professional techniques of teaching, but in how to use the equipment. In China, “daike” teachers (community appointed and paid) are not recognized by the government or eligible for inclusion in the professional development provision, even though they may be qualified and teaching in government schools (Robinson & Yi, 2008). Gansu Province averages more than 9.7% of “daike” teachers and in some areas more than half or even higher. The salaries of these teachers are very low, average between 300-500 RMB/month. Some are more than 50 years old with low education background sand they need work in farm as well. These teachers have less chance to be further educated and some of them are slow to adopt the new techniques in teaching though the established Distance Education system. Take Ganzhou as an example. 80% of the teachers can use the computer to give a lecture, only 40% of them can find and create educational resources to use in teaching, prepare lesson plans, and retrieve and store online information on the new curriculum and teaching methods (Table 3).

Table 3
Skills Mastered by Online Education Teachers in some Rural Areas of Gansu Province


  Basic mastered (%)

Practically mastered (%)

Students/ computer






MoE, 2005





Zhangye, 2005





Ganzhou, 2005





Gansu Daily, 2007

The NYCE and Distance Education program provide scholarship and other policies like “Two free and one allowance.” This means that students from a poor family do not need pay for tuition and book fees and can enjoy an allowance from the school. (Minle, 2005;Qinchen, 2005; Tianshui, 2004;) In Minle, as an example, 8,583 students from poor families enjoyed the “Two free and one allowance” policy and the school itself has a related favorable policy for the rest of the students. Seven hundred and eighty one (781) students were released from 20 600 RMB fees in primary school and 346 students were freed about 25 100 RMB fees in secondary school in one term in 2005. The county also merged 49 schools, reestablished 8 new schools in other places, and established one lodging (boarding) school. These policies greatly encouraged students from poor families to go back to school and continue their studies. The quality of teaching was improved in all aspects. At the end of 2004, 77% of the students were qualified in the 6 subjects exam given to all senior students from secondary schools, and 86% of the students were enrolled in high school. Among primary school students, 98.7% passed the 2 subjects exam . Compared to the past, the qualified percentage for both primary and secondary school graduates were increased more than 20% in Minle and the whole province (Table 4).

Table 4
The teaching effect of Distance Education in part of rural areas of Gansu Province


Graduated or qualified percentage (%)











Tianshui, 2004






Qincheng, 2005






Minle, 2005






Gansu Daily, 2007


Prospect and challenges of Distance Education in Gansu

The use of Distance Education in rural areas has the potential to distribute learning more widely and equitably across the teaching force and student learners. It has already improved teaching quality, student enrollment, changed the mind of teachers, and widened the view of both of teachers and students. It has improved the variety of resources and support available to teachers, opening up new avenues to professional development.

The central government has put “revitalized China Through Science and Education” as a basic policy and put the status of education in rural areas as the “priority among priorities” .In 2003, 3.344 billion RMB was allocated to pilot the ‘National Modern Distance Education Program in Rural Areas’. As a result, the pilot project, including 10,000 primary and secondary schools in western areas of Gansu has been completed successfully (MoE, 2004). The Gansu Province take Distance Education as a government mandate. In the 11th 5-years development policy, the government will provide more money to develop Distance Education, construct and enhance the infrastructure, and extend information technique courses and workshops. It will use primary and secondary schools to develop methods of instruction and rely on universities for information technique construction and integration of all educational resources. This will be under leadership of the Education Technology Center in Gansu Province.

Though Distance Education has been successfully established in Gansu Province and achieved improvement in teaching quality and social impact, it still has a long way to go to keep up with developed areas and other countries. The rural Distance Education programs of Gansu should ‘consolidate existing achievements, deepen reform, improve quality, and pursue a sustainable development’ policy. To consolidate existing achievements, the Province government should sustain funding to maintain the system and ensure that it runs smoothly in technique and equipment.

Take Gaoling of Kongtong primary school, Pingliang District as an example. The school established a Model 1 and Model 2 classroom in Oct. 2004, but few of the teachers can use it. Some of the teachers don’t know how to operate the equipment. As a result, they delete important information and the computer can not run any more. Some schools in this district are too poor to use these equipments. Pankou, Huasuo primary school, with only 37 students, has 300 RMB for daily teaching and to maintain the Distance Education equipment (Zeng, 2005).

The Province government should insist on continuing the development of Distance Education in rural areas. It should learn from other places, introduce new methods and resources to improve teaching quality, and shorten the education gap with developed districts to facilitate development of the local economy. The government needs programs to change teachers’ minds and teaching methods through workshops and practice courses; to have teachers view and emulate other teachers courses, and meanwhile enhance teacher training on how to use the equipment in various ways. To sustain development of rural Distance Education, the Province government should not only fund the education system, but should encourage teachers create their own teaching materials, communicate about teaching methods, share experiences, participate in teaching competitions, and apply “best practices.”. The resources of rural Distance Education must have diversity. Resources developed by the national must suit local requirements, and have different models to support different bases in different place. And third, the government should continue funding to ensure that the school can maintain and run the equipment smoothly.


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About the Author

Meiting Bai. Ms. Bai is Assistant Lecturer of Gansu Radio and TV University, Lanzhou China 730030.

E-mail: baimt@gsrtvu.cn

Telephone :86 931 8721735 (O)     Fax: 86 931 8721735

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