Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Digital learning, Educational inequality, PISA, Rich countries, Poor countries, HLM

Major Advisor

Simon Cheng

Associate Advisor

Mary J. Fischer

Associate Advisor

Jeremy Pais

Associate Advisor

Michael E. Wallace

Associate Advisor

David L. Weakliem

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


The Internet has become indispensable to education throughout the world. Despite the growing importance of the Internet, a gap in digital skills and usage according to socioeconomic status—known as the digital divide or digital learning inequality—exists in many countries. Comparative research has focused mainly on the digital divide among adults, leaving it underexplored among students. And we know little about whether the use of digital technology increases or reduces existing educational inequality. My dissertation uses comparative analysis to address gaps in the literature, by examining the digital divide among 15-year-old students in a wide range of countries, using data from the 2009 wave of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). I use three-level multilevel analysis to estimate school- and country-level determinants of the digital divide among students from various socioeconomic backgrounds. Findings from the dissertation make several contributions to education and stratification research. First, increased national expenditure on research, innovation, and secondary education reduce the gap in digital use that is directly related to school-related tasks (i.e., use of educational software, digital use for schoolwork at home) in both more- and less-developed countries. However, this investment in poor countries does not reduce the gap in Internet literacy between socioeconomically advantaged and disadvantaged students, but widens it. Second, although digital use at school positively predicts digital learning, the association differs greatly between schools and across countries. For poor countries, the use of digital technology is more beneficial to students who attend socioeconomically disadvantaged schools than those in privileged schools. For rich countries, on the other hand, increasing the use of digital technology in the classroom increases the relative advantage of attending privileged schools. Third, social segregation in schools plays an important role in influencing the digital learning opportunities of students in four Chinese societies--Shanghai, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Specifically, Shanghai has a highest level of digital learning inequality, largely due to disparities in Internet access and more school-choice opportunities for parents. My dissertation concludes by discussing the different implications for policymakers in poor and affluent countries who want to reduce the digital divide.