Editor’s note: This year marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. This is part of a series looking at significant developments in various fields as China increases its interaction with the world.
Thai student Kapak Waiyarith slowly lowered the toylike contraption on her palm into the cardboard maze, setting its sensor lights flashing and wheels in motion.
The whirring device – part of an international “micromouse” robotics competition – crashed into a partition of the labyrinth less than three seconds later, after moving just a fraction of the distance covered by Chinese competitors’ similar devices.
“It’s hard to keep up, but learning and improving from the experience is more important,” said Kapak, 24.
The student from Phranakhon Rajabhat University in Bangkok was among those taking part in the competition in North China’s Tianjin municipality last week, when participants raced miniature autonomous robots to map out and complete the maze.
The event at the Tianjin Bohai Vocational Technical College marked a high point in Kapak’s two months of artificial intelligence and robotics training in the city, where she acquired crucial skills to equip her for the global marketplace.
Kapak is among an increasing number of recipients worldwide of skills transfer under China’s Luban Workshop vocational education program.
The workshops are named after Chinese craftsman and inventor Lu Ban of the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC), who was revered as the embodiment of professional and technical excellence.
Since the launch of the first Luban Workshop overseas center three years ago at Ayutthaya Technical College in Thailand, the program, led by Tianjin municipal authorities under the guidance of the Ministry of Education, has spread to educational institutions in the East and West.
At least eight program workshops have been established in Asia, Africa and Europe, with skills training and certification involving more than 4,000 people in nearly 20 fields, including transportation, mechanics and new energy, according to Tianjin education authorities.
The workshops, whose topics range from electromechanical integration in Cambodia and photovoltaic applications in India to railway operations in East Africa’s Djibouti and culinary courses in Britain, also align with the Belt and Road Initiative’s focus on global cooperation in economic and social development, they said.
The training sessions adopt a practical, innovation-oriented approach to learning.
At an international forum at the Tianjin Vocational Institute on Friday, when attendants took stock of the program’s achievements against the backdrop of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Lyu Jingquan, deputy director of the Tianjin Education Commission, said the training sessions form a “Chinese brand of vocational education” offering the best of the country’s technical expertise.
“One of the main reasons behind the rapid development of the Chinese economy is its vocational education and training,” he said.
“On that basis, we will share our best qualities and results with the countries and our partners for shared progress.”
Jose Pedro Magalhaes Lucas, who is in charge of the Luban Workshop at the Polytechnic Institute of Setubal in Portugal, said, “The benefits of the program have been enormous”. Since late last year, the institute’s workshop students have been trained in areas such as electrical automation, advanced manufacturing and artificial intelligence.
“Our teachers have also been given the opportunity to develop more research capabilities and access to equipment, helping to develop our supervision systems for industry. Then there is the interaction between students and teachers fromboth countries, fueling international and cultural experience,” said the engineering professor, who specializes in electronics and automation.
Portuguese student Hugo Frazao, 22, has participated twice in the workshop program in Tianjin, for about a week each time, and also has had opportunities to hone his automation and instrumentation skills through competitions.
“With this program, you can apply what you’ve learned through the laboratories and innovate. You can become very good at what you do. You communicate with each other, make improvements and it’s very good for our skills and the industry.”
Similarly, at Thailand’s Ayutthaya Technical College, those taking part in railway operations training have participated in skills competitions as part of their vocational education.
College Director Jarun Youbrum said Thai authorities “place a lot of emphasis on Luban Workshop cooperation and greatly value it”. Many exchanges have also been conducted under the program, with representatives from other countries observing and learning from the sessions, he said.
“Every year, we have on average more than 100 recipients of Chinese funding support for education, making it one of the largest and most significant educational sources of its kind for us and helping to raise the profile of our college,” Jarun said.
“Moving forward, we would like to focus on our own teaching competencies for our educators to better receive and learn Chinese capabilities,” he said.
“We need to use this China-Thailand cooperation platform to help Thai vocational education move toward internationalization.”
Luban Workshop organizers said the training will continue to cultivate technical talent to power growth in countries participating in Belt and Road infrastructure and development projects, with at least 14 more centers in the works worldwide.
Zoon Ahmed Khan, a Pakistani research fellow at the Belt and Road Strategy Institute of Tsinghua University, said vocational training is a key aspect of infrastructure projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor plan. “Cooperation with Luban is significant. It’s not just timely, it’s very visionary. It’s a very successful model.”