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Across China: Xinjiang teenager shifts from sheep grazing to robot racing

Xinhua | Updated: 2023-09-22 10:59

TIANJIN -- Rozimemet Turghun has made an incredible journey in just two years, transforming from a sheepherder on pastures to a robotics enthusiast competing on the national vocational skills stage.

Representing his hometown team from Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, the 18-year-old man stood among more than 4,000 contestants at the second Vocational Skills Competition, which closed Tuesday in North China's Tianjin municipality.

Although he didn't secure a medal in the mobile robotics category at the contest, his enthusiasm remained unwavering.

"While there's still some ground to cover when compared to the top-notch participants, I pushed through and successfully completed the entire event, leaving me feeling thrilled," Rozimemet Turghun said.

Born in Aktokay village, Xinjiang's Aksu prefecture, Rozimemet Turghun didn't leave his rural upbringing until he entered Aksu Technical College two years ago.

"My parents made a living from herding, and I used to accompany them to the mountains to tend to the sheep," he said, adding that he couldn't have imagined leaving his remote village and leading a life different from his parents at that time.

During his leisure hours, Rozimemet Turghun developed a penchant for tinkering with household electronics. Even without formal instruction, he could methodically troubleshoot and repair electronic devices like lamps and radios.

After completing middle school, he enrolled in Aksu Technical College.

The turnaround came in March 2022 when Zhao Pengfei, vice dean of the electrical and mechanical engineering department, started assembling a team for a skills competition.

Rozimemet Turghun's remarkable hands-on skills caught the eye of Zhao during the selection process. He was handpicked to join the team, focusing on technologies related to industrial robot applications.

"I initially thought that a middle school graduate might struggle to grasp the knowledge needed for the competition. However, Rozimemet Turghun quickly understood the content explained by teachers and could put it into practice," Zhao said.

"His most valuable trait is his tenacity," Zhao added.

The competition involved programming industrial robots, a formidable challenge for someone with little experience with computers. Undaunted, Rozimemet Turghun acquired the essential skills, memorized the position of each component, and practiced each assembly step, day and night.

In April, Rozimemet Turghun, alongside his teammate Peng Ruixue, took their inaugural steps onto the competition field. They clinched the first-place position in the mobile robotics category at a prefectural vocational skills competition.

A month later, they secured a bronze medal during the Xinjiang tryout for the second Vocational Skills Competition. He astonished everyone by completing the disassembly and assembly of a mobile robot in just 2 hours and 12 minutes -- an achievement beyond his wildest dreams just two months ago.

China has long put vocational education high on its policy agenda. According to the education ministry, secondary and higher vocational schools in China produce approximately 10 million graduates annually. This consistent supply of skilled workforce has helped staff up production lines and outlets nationwide.

"With the advancement of technology and upgrades in manufacturing equipment, the complexity of electrical devices is increasing, and the precision required for installation and debugging is also higher," Zhao said. "Skilled talents are in greater demand than ever."

Zhao aspires to introduce cutting-edge technologies in the competition to remote classrooms and benefit more students in Xinjiang.

As the countdown reached zero on the day of the competition in Tianjin, Rozimemet Turghun couldn't tear his eyes away from the robots on the field. He lingered, reluctant to leave the grounds.

For him, each competition has not only honed his skills but has also shaped his future. "When I herded sheep as a child, I never thought about the future. Now I hope to refine my skills and step onto even broader stages."

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