Compulsory education is an important aspect of the societal development. Meanwhile, education equality safeguards the effectiveness of education systems and is an important part of social equality. This study analyzes the inequality of compulsory education from the perspective of imbalanced spatial distribution. Unlike previous studies that have measured the spatial distribution of education simply based on the spatial position of primary and secondary schools, we explore spatial accessibility based on the shortest travel distance from residents to schools, and then analyze the inequality of compulsory education through the distribution of spatial accessibility. We use 2873 Chinese counties as statistical units, and perform a statistical and graphical analysis of their spatial accessibility using the Theil index and spatial autocorrelation analyses. To analyze the differences in the spatial accessibility distribution on the national and regional levels, we use three partitioned modes: the terrain partitioned mode, the economic development partitioned mode, and the province-level partitioned mode. We then analyze the spatial agglomeration characteristics and distribution patterns of compulsory education accessibility through global autocorrelation, local autocorrelation, and hot-spot and cold-spot analysis. The results demonstrate an obvious imbalance in the distribution of spatial accessibility to compulsory education at the national level. Accessibility and equality in eastern and central regions are significantly better than those in the western region; both are significantly better in coastal regions than in inland regions; and equality alone is better in the municipalities, such as Shanghai, Tianjin, and Chongqing, than in other provinces and autonomous regions. The spatial pattern analysis shows significant global autocorrelation and obvious clusters. Counties in cold-spot areas (clusters of good spatial accessibility) are large in number but small in size. Cold-spot areas present a ring-shaped structure in space with Henan Province as the core. Counties in hot-spot areas (clusters of weak spatial accessibility) are not as numerous, but most are large in size; hot-spot areas are mainly in the northwest regions, characterized by complex terrain and severe economic difficulty. This study can provide significant information to aid policy making related to compulsory education sustainability in China and can facilitate research on the equality and sustainable development of compulsory education.
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