The Chinese central government has invested 61.8 billion yuan (10.1 bln U.S. dollars) improving schoolhouses and educational facilities in rural areas over the past four years. Since 2010, 39.9 billion yuan from the central budget has been used in schoolhouse renovation and 21.9 billion yuan in educational equipment, said Liu Limin, deputy minister of education, at a press conference on Thursday. Money was also used to build cafeterias at schools in 699 "poor" counties, after media reports exposed that some students in remote villages have to cook for themselves during study time, according to Liu. The deputy minister revealed that the ministries of education and finance and the National Development and Reform Commission jointly worked out a plan on improving the level of education in poor areas at the end of last year. The plan aims at completing six major tasks in three to five years, including improving basic school facilities like teaching equipment, sports grounds and toilets, promoting digital teaching methods and improving the quality of teaching staff, according to Liu. He also said that the ministry will try to ensure better compulsory education and care for 23 million rural left-behind children at school age, who stayed alone or with their relatives while their parents go to cities to make a living.