Shrinking the Rural-Urban Educational Divide in China

Topics in this article

Dell Inc. and Stanford’s Rural Education Action Program (REAP) significantly boosts rural students’ test scores by providing online learning opportunities.

children in the REAP program using Dell computers

Slay a dragon. Conquer a math problem. Rake in the gold coins. And keep on playing. Today, digital games are central to the lives of children and also increasingly, powerful tools for learning.

In the mountains of rural China and the underserved areas of China’s booming cities, educational gaming is changing lives.

China’s young people living in these areas face many obstacles to academic achievement. Scott Rozelle — a Stanford University economist — has studied these isolated areas for over 30 years and is witness to how computer games can be effective learning tools for these “left behind children.”

Rozelle is the co-director of the Rural Education Action Program (REAP) in the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. In partnership with Dell in 2010, Rozelle and his team developed Stanford’s REAP-Dell CAL program, a computer-assisted learning program aimed to bridge the rural-urban educational divide for students in rural schools across China.

We recently talked with Rozelle (below left) to learn more about the REAP-Dell CAL program and his experiences in China.

scott rozelle talking with students in the REAP program
Scott Rozelle, co-director of REAP, talks with students involved in the program.

As Rozelle explains, the REAP-Dell CAL program uses fun, game-based software run on Dell computers to teach math, Chinese and English to students in grades 3-6.

These are the subjects that rural students struggle with the most, and they are essential to the jobs that can eventually lift students out of poverty.

When rural and migrant students fall behind in a subject, they cannot get extra help from their teachers, who are not permitted to tutor after school. These students cannot afford to hire private tutors or attend the “cram schools” urban students often rely on. And they cannot get help from their parents, as many rural parents are poorly educated and often work and live away from the family home.

“The light of day fades quickly in the mountains, after school lets out. When the CAL program opens up at 5 pm, these kids have lined up early for it,” Rozelle says. “This is the thing they love to do and it also helps their grades — without needing a teacher.”

Amongst the beneficiaries, the REAP-Dell CAL program—a Dell Youth Learning initiative—engages young people in communities where Dell operates and manufactures products and provides education and training to children of factory workers in Dell’s supply chain. Dell provides grant funding and our latest technology.

Over the past seven years, Dell and REAP have worked together to improve the CAL program and bring it to more schools.

group of children in the REAP program

In 2015, Dell worked with Shaanxi Normal University and Ankang College to introduce an online version of REAP-Dell CAL in 59 schools serving 3,200 students in Ankang, Shaanxi. Online CAL eliminates the need to travel to remote areas to install and maintain software.

The online CAL program enables students to interact and compete with friends, which makes learning even more engaging and effective.

In controlled studies conducted in 2016, it was found the online CAL program had twice as much impact on students’ test scores as the installed software (offline) version of CAL.

Rozelle recently returned from a trip to see the CAL program in action. Throughout his career, he has lived in China for months at a time to research the problems of the poor and develop broad collaborations with partners from academia, the government and the private sector.

Rozelle’s focus on rural education stems from his experiences in 2005, when he asked a Chinese farmer, “What do you really need to live a better life?

“He said, if our children can be educated and go to high school and college, our entire family fortune changes,” Rozelle recalls.

At the time, China was experiencing an uptake in urbanization and education for children in poor, rural villages was becoming even more important. That trend continues today — underlining the importance of programs like REAP-Dell CAL.

In 2017, Dell and REAP plan to scale the online CAL program to all schools currently using our offline CAL program, reaching an estimated 9,000 students total. Our goal is to reach 1 million students with online CAL by 2020.

This story shares one example of how Dell is committed to driving human progress by putting our technology and expertise to work where it can do the most good for people and the planet.

We invite you to explore our FY17 Annual update on our 2020 Legacy of Good Plan at

About the Author: Phaedra Cucina

Phaedra manages the marketing strategy for Dell's charitable giving, which focuses on solving pressing societal issues such as giving underserved youth better access to technology, and brighter futures. She is also responsible for Dell’s Legacy of Good presence at industry events, bringing Dell’s most compelling CSR stories to life for our customers and team members. In addition, Phaedra runs the Girls Track for DWEN, Dell’s Women Entrepreneur Network, which gives teen girls valuable entrepreneurial skills.
Topics in this article