Chinese educational tours may be in vogue, but the quality of those trips is worrying.
On August 15, several parents wrote to Guangzhou Daily to tell how their 40,000 yuan “educational tour” was a trap. The promised STEM lesson in the tour never appeared on the real itinerary. Instead, the tour rushed between prestigious universities and tourism destinations.
Other grumbles concerned tour guides refusing to pre-pay a child’s medical expenses when one of the students broke his toes. The student had to call his mother in China for help.
New Oriental Corporation, the parent company of the tour organizer, said their complaints “did not reflect truth.”
Troubling Educational Tours
International educational tours have been popular in China since 2000. At that time, they were known as international camps.
But the typical educational tour that is closest to what’s popular today began in 2004, when students would meet at airports for “overseas university visits.” At the time, such tours were a luxury for the wealthy. They did not become a full tourism product until 2010, when studying abroad became a common expense for Chinese families.
Misi Investment published its International Educational Tour Report in April, noting that the educational tourism industry for students between the ages of 8 and 18 could generate 10 billion yuan in revenue.
That enormous financial power is an “underestimated’ number, according to the report. With more options to target younger children or adults, the market capacity may lurch ever higher.
But administrative problems surfaced immediately. In August, Xue’ersi, an education training mogul in China, upset Shanghai families with its shoddy educational tour. A viral article on WeChat detailed how the agency “changed hotels without notice,” “served moldy bread to students” and “had a horrible attitude to students and parents.”
“The staff checked in to five-star hotels. All they focused on was shopping and outlets,” it said.
Moreover, the actual “educational” portion of these tours is being questioned. While it’s true that some tours do not even bother taking the children to university classes, it’s the shopping requests from family in China that pose an even greater distraction.
“The cost of an educational tour is almost twice that of a common trip. I couldn’t think of a good reason to deny relatives who had purchasing requests,” a mother surnamed Lin told Sina.com.
Li Muyang, 11, wrote on Tencent.com about his 11-day education trip to the US.
“My classmates were crazy for Apple products. We even lent money to each to buy iPhones and iPads,” Li said. “We seldom learned anything and used most of the time to travel around. I don’t think my English is improved.”
Behind the Popularity
The trend is driven mainly by Chinese parents’ blindness to what it means to study abroad and a fear of seeing their children fall behind.
A survey by Voc.com found that more than 30 percent of parents said they knew little about educational tours. Most said they only signed up to avoid losing face. In the eyes of many Chinese students, going abroad for education will help them gain “face” and respect from their peers.
Xinhua reported more than 100,000 Chinese students participated in 10 types of educational tours this summer. Each tour cost tens of thousands of yuan.
“Broadening one’s horizon and seeing the outside world is highly valued in China. For most parents, signing up for an educational tour does no harm,” Chinese Business Herald wrote in its survey report.
Furthermore, tourism agencies claim the certificates earned from their programs offer students a higher chance at university admission.
While certain programs designed in cooperation with overseas universities do give students the chance to meet admissions officers, most educational tours have little difference from any other recreation trip, a teacher surnamed He said.
Additionally, the costly tour pricing has no basis in reality. Foreign university campuses are generally free and open to public. It’s the same for many heritage sites included on popular itineraries.
In July, Xinggang Primary School in Guangzhou organized 17 students to head for their sister school – Mile Oak Primary School – in Brighton and Hove, England.
“We correspond with Mile Oak Primary School all the time. They’re kind and welcoming, and offer free activities to our students,” said Wen Lizhen, headmaster of Xingang Primary School. Xin said their price much less than the average educational tour, and includes tickets, meals, accommodations and sight-seeing.
The tour has been a hit with parents, both for its price and its relative safety.
“We thought it best to let the school to take care our children. They’re more familiar with the situation,” said Liu, a parent of a student at Yucai Primary School in Guangzhou.
For students who wish to study abroad, summer school might be a better alternative to educational tours. Chen Qiyong, an education adviser at ZMN education, said summer school admissions could be a good practice for full school admission.
Summer school programs usually last for two to eight weeks with cost between $2,000 and $9,000.
But rampant problems with educational tour are unlikely to kill the industry. China’s education authorities may have to step in with supervisory policies.
The US Summer Camp Association, founded in 1910, oversees most summer camp programs offered nationwide. In Taiwan and Hong Kong, verified websites play a role in protecting the rights and interests of summer camp participants.