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Home environment plays key role in student performance: Study

An educational gap exists between students in the nation's urban and rural areas -- and despite what many may think, it's not caused by a lack school of resources, according to a new study by National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU) professor of education Hsu Tien-ming (許添明). Instead, the key factor is a student's living environment, including access to desks, dictionaries, and other learning tools at home, Hsu reported Wednesday to the National Science Council, which funded the research.

It's well known that students in big cities outperform their rural counterparts, but up until now it has been hard to put a number on exactly how differently advantaged the two groups are. Hsu took mathematics rankings from the Program for International Student Assessment exam, a worldwide biennial test for 15-year-olds in which Taiwan often ranks among the highest, and found the gap between urban and rural students in Taiwan to be 2.6 times greater than the average disparaity in the member states of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), indicating a serious educational disadvantage for Taiwan's rural population.

The gap is not caused by distrubition of resources, Hsu argues, since many of Taiwan's rural schools actually have more access to resources thanks to government efforts over the last decade to improve schools in remote areas. But while government investment, whether for after-school counsiling or parent-teacher interaction, is not enough as 'the parents who need to come the most aren't coming,' the report says. What disadvantaged students need is not better schools, but a better environment at home to concentrate and study.

A little bit can go a long way, the report finds. Investing in a desk to do homework, dictionaries, educational software, and extra-curricular reading materials can have a profound impact on a student's performance. By focusing not just on the classroom but also on educating parents on the importance of a home conducive to study, the gap between urban and rural students can largely be closed, the study concludes.