Online learning has drastically expanded in recent years. While some people believe there are certain advantages of online learning over traditional learning, others are concerned online learning will widen the inequality. Certainly, the online learning tsunami has created what is described as the “Digital divide”, which refers to the differences in access to, use of, and skills in information and communication technology (ICT) among different social groups. A study by Guo and Wan examined equity issues in online learning in China during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stratified sampling was conducted to draw sample data from the Online Learning Survey of High School Students. A total of 27,710 (49.7% boys) students’ responses from 164 high schools in 10 provinces was included in the study. Three levels of digital divide were assessed regarding students’ online learning during the pandemic:
First-level digital divide refers to equipment and network conditions. Though 95% of students had at least one piece of equipment that could be used for online learning, 18.4% claimed that learning was negatively affected by inadequate equipment. Looking further into the details, equipment and network condition problems were more likely to negatively affect students with low SES than those with high SES, students from rural areas than those from urban areas, and students from non-single-child families than from single-child families.
Second-level digital divide refers to the difference in internet usage and skills. A self-evaluated scale was used to assess students’ adaptability to online learning which reflected, to a certain extent, the general digital literacy. The findings indicated students with low SES (ES = -0.46), those from rural areas (ES = -0.31), and those from non-single-child families (ES = -0.32), had lower adaptability to online learning scores.
Third-level digital divide refers to the difference in offline benefits drawn from internet use. Students’ reports of whether their overall test scores decreased during the pandemic were used (0 = no decrease, 1 = decreased) to access the benefit gained or lost. Results of logistic regressions showed similar results to the first two levels digital divide. Students who encountered network problems or had difficultly adapting to online learning would be more likely to have deteriorated learning outcomes.
It was considered that the traditionally disadvantaged group could reduce their outcome deterioration if their adaptability to online learning could be improved given that equipment and network conditions were the same. The authors stated that establishing online learning alone cannot reduce education inequality, so further efforts are required from various stakeholders.
Source (Open Access): Guo, C., & Wan, B. (2022). The digital divide in online learning in China during the COVID-19 pandemic. Technology in Society, 71, 102122. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.techsoc.2022.102122