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Rural Chinese Children Still in World Without Internet

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Yang Xubing, 29, a middle school maths teacher, dressed in his best suit, receives an award for China's top 10 bloggers on education at a five-star hotel in Beijing.

"This is one of my best moments," Yang says. His blogger articles have reached millions of Chinese, but, ironically, not his own students.

"The Internet cafes in town, from which minors are banned by law, are my students' only access to the Internet. But only undisciplined boys go there to play online games."

His school lies in poverty-stricken Baokang county, central Hubei Province.

The rural countryside is home to 57 percent of China's population, but has only 12 percent of its Internet users, according to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC).

Many families have just bought their first TV sets, and haven't yet considered a computer and broadband, Yang says.

Yang ensures that his students watch the China Central Television (CCTV) main news bulletin at 7:00 PM everyday, which he says is "the only way to keep the class in pace with the world."

Ping'an County, in western Qinghai Province, has a population of 120,000, of whom only 4,145 are Internet users, according the county's publicity department.

"China has been investing heavily in education in rural areas and built computer rooms for some key township primary schools. But very few computers are really linked to the Internet," says He Jinbang, director of the office of the county education bureau.

"Less than 1 percent of students have computers at home," says Qi Yingchang, principal of Shagou Township Hui Ethnic Primary School, the only primary school equipped with a computer room in Ping'an County.

"The computer room was set up in 2005 in a distance education project with 30 computers sharing 1-megabite bandwidth," Qi says. In China, urban families usually have more than 10-megabite bandwidth at home.

"This is the best we have here. At least the teachers can get online to gather information to prepare their classes."

We give computer lessons to third graders and above, but only on very basic knowledge and practices because of the limited Internet access, says Li Xia who teaches computer class in the school.

"The Internet is a good way for children in rural areas to connect with the outside world," says Yang Qishan, head of teaching of Beizhuang Mingde Primary School in Wushi Town, in Qinghai's Tu Autonomous County of Huzhu.

Yang Qishan's school was also given a computer room in the national distance education project. Although the computers are not linked to the Internet, the third graders can have one computer class a week.

"The Internet can help the children explore and understand by themselves things that they've never seen, things that are almost impossible to teach in traditional classes," Yang Qishan says.

Yang Zhanxia, 16, is about to attend high school, but she has never surfed the Internet.

"Some of my classmates have got online before. They say it's very interesting," Yang Zhanxia says.

"Those who had surfed the Internet know more and talk more," Yang Zhanxia says. "I don't understand many of the things they talk about."

Ma Xiang, 15, is lucky to get online at a relative's home.

"I chat, read news and play online games on the Internet. Once, I even did maths exercises online," Ma says. "I really want to have a computer at home."

"I heard about the Internet on TV," says Xiong Haiyue, a fifth grader at the school.

Asked what's the Internet for, she lowers her voice: "It makes people bad."

Hu Qiheng, president of the Internet Society of China, predicted that the number of Internet users in rural areas will grow more rapid than in urban areas in the years to come. "Internet will see its next stage of rapid development in rural China, combining the bounty resources and huge market there."

"I hope Internet can contribute more to promoting the development of rural areas and narrowing the yawning wealth gap," Hu said.

(Xinhua News Agency November 11, 2009)