More than 80 per cent of the rural students left behind by city-bound parents have never used the internet, a study of differences in rural and urban pupils' access to basic school resources has found.
The study, released on Monday as part of the 2013 Blue Book of Education, also found that less than half of the school pupils in mainland cities had no access to the internet.
Han Jialing , who led the research, said the study was based on analysis of an unpublished survey on women's social status conducted by the All-China Women's Federation which polled 19,894 students.
Han, a research fellow from the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, said that they divided the pupils, aged between 10 and 17, in four categories - urban, rural pupils living with both parents, rural pupils left behind by their parents and pupils living with their migrant families in cities.
Pupils living with their migrant families in cities were better off in terms of access to the internet with more than a third using it for at least half-an-hour a day. Meanwhile, just over a quarter of rural pupils living with both parents had regular access to the internet.
Han said their study showed that pupils living with their migrant families in cities were at a greater advantage in terms of access to school resources and parental care even though they still face many inequalities in cities due to the mainland's controversial hukou (household registration) system.
"This has once again proved that it's in the best interests of pupils from rural areas if their parents can bring them along to come to work and live in cities if they can afford to," she said. "This has also highlighted the need for governments to broaden access to public services for migrant families in order to address the needs of left-behind pupils in rural areas."
Official statistics put the number of left-behind children at about 58 million - accounting for a third of rural children on the mainland.
The new study also found that a quarter of left-behind pupils had no extra-curricular books, compared with just 4.4 per cent of urban pupils.
Sixty per cent of left-behind pupils in rural areas either lived on their own or were left in the care of grandparents or relatives, with little emotional support from their parents.
Nearly 29 per cent of left-behind pupils said they usually turned to friends or classmates for emotional support, while an eighth said they had no one to talk to or preferred to keep things to themselves. Only 31 per cent said their parents were available when they need help.
Wang Shuai , co-author of the book, said some rural pupils were forced to commute for four hours a day to attend ill-equipped boarding schools where classes could be packed with more than 70 students.
"A further concentration of school resources in urban areas as a result of this kind of urbanisation push has widened the urban-rural gap and the divide from one region to another in terms of access to quality teaching," he said. "So we need to rethink what kind of education rural pupils really need."