YINCHUAN-In the local school, 12-year-old Duan Jiayang learns the skills required to take care of vegetable fields.

“I learned how to place the mulch film,” says Jiayang, a student of Tanglai Hui Primary School in Yinchuan, capital of Northwest China’s Ningxia Hui autonomous region. “It’s not easy.”

In China, many parents place a heavy focus on their children’s academic grades, while vocational skills have largely been ignored.

“Some parents do everything for their children,” says Yan Mei, an official with the primary school, adding that many students lack the basic skills needed in their daily lives. For example, Yan says, some parents would do chores on behalf of their children during the school’s general cleaning, while their children would just sit around.

Since March last year, authorities have issued a variety of guidelines, requiring that colleges, middle schools and primary schools pay more attention to teaching students practical skills.

Following the rollout of these guidelines, Tanglai Hui Primary School launched an “agricultural class base” on one of its campuses. Students plant fruit and vegetables on a plot of land about 0.4 hectares in size.

In the days leading up to the May Day holiday, students of various grades at the school worked together to sow seeds, till the soil and place mulch film over the fields, says school principal Yang Bo. They planted watermelon, spinach and corn, among other crops. May Day, also known as Labor Day, is observed on May 1 in China.

“We will ask students to get involved in the entire process of the plants’ growth,” Yang says. “Life skills education is not simply about working in the fields, but also experiencing and observing life.”

The school hopes that students will develop an understanding of just how precious food is so that they will better appreciate the hardship their parents went through, Yang adds.

On a campus of the No 21 Primary School in Yinchuan, students were attending a special life skills class: how to make variously shaped steamed buns.

With fermented dough and equipment prepared, students began to make buns in the shape of swans, hedgehogs and rabbits.

One of the students, Lian Yan, quickly grasped the technique and made a dough swan, put it in the classroom steamer and watched it become a steamed bun.

“I really love my life skills course. It’s my favorite class,” she says. “We can learn to make steamed buns and grow succulent plants here.”

Children usually just study at home and doing chores is an unpleasant task they want to avoid, says the mother of Fan Wendi, one of the students in the school.

“Vocational courses turn such ‘tasks’ into an interest, and then a hobby, and eventually a life skill,” she says. “It will be a good thing for their future.”