Life skills program added to curriculum in China

Rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty, pupils from a primary school in Sichuan Province are learning how to plant vegetables. At first sight, it doesn't look like a typical class. It's part of a new program that's designed to hone their skills in production work and services.

China's Ministry of Education has taken another step in providing a more rounded education for young students. A new program which aims to give students more life skills will be delivered nationwide this September.

In the life skills classes, there are 10 activities including cleaning, organizing, cooking, home chores, caring for pets and growing vegetables. From September, children must attend at least one of these classes each week. The lessons will be tailored to their age.

For example, in "Cooking and Nutrition," first and second grade students will be taught basic skills such as peeling and washing vegetables. Grades three to four will learn how to steam or boil food, like cooking eggs or warming up frozen food.

Grade five and six students will learn to make simple dishes like scrambled eggs with tomatoes, fried eggs and soups. And children in grades seven to nine will be taught to complete the whole food preparation process by themselves, and design meal plans for their families.

Teachers piloting the program say it can play a special role in a student's development.

"In our curriculum planning, we mainly focus on domestic labor and life skills. Students can acquire cooking skills, such as steaming and boiling, they can also learn some manual skills, such as knitting," said Wang Heng, a teacher at Chengdu Paotongshu Primary School. "Students can acquire some practical skills and, at the same time, be proud of their culture."

It's a break from the norm in China's education system, which has often been criticized for its emphasis on standardized tests over basic life skills. The departure comes in the midst of education reform initiatives, which include what's known as a "double reduction" policy, where less homework and time spent on after-school tutoring is encouraged.

Many parents are excited to see some diversity in their child's education.

"These classes are really good," said Chen Xiaomei, a mother in Chengdu. "My child has learned to take the initiative and do some chores at home this semester. I think practical skills are necessary for every child." 

"I think cooking is a necessary skill that everyone have to learn," a seventh grade student who attended a cooking class in Hangzhou said during an interview. "There are many people who eat takeouts most of the time. We can try to learn to cook now," said another student in the same class.

The introduction of such classes has prompted a lot of online discussion and debate. While some lent their support to the reform, others questioned whether the courses will increase the pressure on parents to help teach children at home.

"Asking students to cook at home is inadvisable, as it might put extra burden on parents," said one netizen. Some people said that as not every school has the required equipment, students need to learn life skills at home. 

Life skills classes have not been included in the high school or college entrance examination, which is supported by many netizens. "Exams are not the goal, developing students' life skills is the goal of learning," reads one hot comment.

Nevertheless, the move marks the government's latest attempt to provide a better and more rounded education for students.

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