In mid-summer, when the sun was burning like a fire ball, Old Li, a farmer, felt like he had ice in his heart. A member of the family successfully passing the college examination should be a happy occasion. However, when Old Li’s son, Li Xutong, received his college admission letter, it put the family in an awkward situation. And then, to add to the drama, Li Xutong unexpectedly ran away from home.

Li Xutong was the family’s eldest son. Ever since he was a child, he had been an intelligent and filial son, not only helping his parents with the farm work, but also looking after his two younger sisters. He was also a good student who performed well in school. After he took the college entrance examination, he was admitted to a university in his home province. His neighbours expressed congratulations, which made his father feel very proud. However, Li Xutong was preoccupied: going to college meant that he had to leave the countryside and live and work in the city. However, he was conscious that farmers live at the mercy of the elements. His family has only a dozen mu of land and had to work very hard to help their three children attend school. The tuition fee for four years of college studies would put a heavy burden on the family. What worried him more was that if he couldn’t find the right job after graduation, the time and money he spent on studying would be worthless. He realised that he should help the family by learning some skills and earning his own living as early as possible. After careful deliberation, he solemnly told his family that he had decided not to go to college. However, his parents insisted that the whole family were willing to make sacrifice in order to help him finish his college studies. They “warned” him that “if you give up this opportunity, you will regret it in the future”. However, a few days later, he quietly left home with some clothes and a little money, leaving a letter which said: “Mom and Dad, don’t worry, I’m going to learn some skills to support our family.”

While his parents were reading the letter, Li Xutong was sitting on a train heading for Beijing. The truth was, after he received his admission letter, he told his junior middle school teacher what he worried about. The teacher suggested that he go to Beijing New Oriental Cooking School, which is jointly run by the Secondary Technical School of the Open University of China (OUC). The school implements “degree + skills” education, meaning that a student could not only get a skills certificate, but also obtain a technical secondary school diploma. This would add to Li Xutong’s employability and save on his tuition fees. As soon as he heard this, he was overjoyed. He searched online to confirm all of this and once he found a reassuring answer, he decided to study in Beijing.

Li Xutong: a student striving to be his best self

After joining Beijing New Oriental Cooking School, Li Xutong cherished every moment. In order to improve his cooking techniques, he got up at dawn to build up the muscles in his arms and practice his knife skills. He listened carefully in class and repeated his exercises after class. He took relevant field trips during the holidays. In order to improve his abilities and qualities, he joined the student union and worked hard. He organised study-related activities for his classmates, as well as apprenticeships and internships. In order to enhance his professional level, he participated in the “Cooking Chinese Food” two-year degree education programme, created by the OUC Secondary Technical School. He systematically studied the theoretical courses, including Introduction to Cooking, Basic Culinary Knowledge, and Professional Ethics. He was granted a scholarship due to his excellent academic performance.

With a professional qualification certificate and a technical secondary school diploma in hand, as well as perfect professional skills, solid theoretical knowledge, and comprehensive qualities, Li Xutong got employment with several catering companies after graduation. He is now chief chef of a branch of Hangzhou Green Tea Catering Co., Ltd., whose annual turnover is over RMB 100 million. He is confident and skilled in his work. In 2016, China successfully held the G20 Summit in Hangzhou. The heads of state, dignitaries, and honoured guests of the participating countries all praised the Chinese cuisine on offer. Li Xudong was deeply touched by this. He realised that as one of the new generation of Chinese chefs, he should not only master cooking skills but also exhibit profound cultural knowledge. To this end, he decided to continue to study at the OUC and gain his college and undergraduate degrees.

There are many students like Li Xutong at the OUC Secondary Technical School. They serve and pay back society with the skills they have learned at school. As a foundation educational unit of the OUC’s multi-level education network, the OUC Secondary Technical School adheres to the concept of “targeting services and focusing on employment” and targets students from the grass roots, rural and remote areas, industries, and ethnic minority areas. The School allows students to register at any time. Online learning is integrated with concentrated learning. The educational system is very flexible, covering one, two, and three-year study programmes. Tuition fees are low. Students can graduate as soon as their study hours and marks reach the required standard. These characteristics help the School better meet the needs of different members of society and it has been highly praised by poor students who are unable to pay tuition fees, disabled people who are not able to attend school full-time, and migrant workers who have come to the city find work. The OUC Secondary Technical School has closely followed the strategic transformation of the OUC, vigorously developing various different education models, and working with 57 companies in related industries, companies, and school-running institutions. It has created the “degree+skill” dual degree education model, actively exploring and innovating its teaching model, management model, and operating mechanism for cooperation between the School and companies in the field of distance vocational education. Overall, the School is working hard to cultivate more practical and technically talented individuals for China.

By Yuan Xiao,