Crash sparks concerns over camps
Updated: 2013-07-15 07:12
By Yu Ran in Shanghai and Yan Yiqi in Jiangshan, Zhejiang (China Daily)
A student from Jiangshan Middle School is welcomed by her parents upon arrival at the school in Jiangshan, Zhejiang province, on Sunday. Huang Shuifu / for China Daily
Chinese students during an international summer camp held in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, in 2012. Shi Yongchun / Xinhua
Students from primary and middle schools in Beijing at a photography winter camp in Sri Lanka in February. Du Du / for China Daily
Government may overhaul the market after three students die in accident, report Yu Ran in Shanghai and Yan Yiqi in Jiangshan, Zhejiang.
The air crash at San Francisco International Airport that killed three Chinese teenagers is likely to prompt changes in regulations governing overseas study tours.
Following the accident, the Zhejiang Education Bureau ordered local schools and related institutions to temporarily suspend participation in overseas summer camps and study tours. Those who have already paid for trips and signed contracts will be allowed to travel, but no new tours will be booked. The suspension could last as long as a year, according to insiders.
"All schools should make sure the parents of participating students are fully informed about the agencies organizing the trips, their schedules and fees. Moreover, parents should be briefed about the safety of the places their children will visit," said Shu Peidong, head of the education bureau's foreign affairs department. He added that the bureau would take steps to ensure that the agencies and their schedules meet national standards.
The victims, Wang Linjia, 17, Ye Mengyuan, 16, and 15-year-old Liu Yipeng, were students at Jiangshan Middle School in Zhejiang province.
Some parents have claimed that the school organized the trip. The principal, Mao Zhuoxing, denied any involvement and said the school simply served as a link between the tour company and the students. "The school did not have any financial relationship with the company. The parents themselves negotiated the prices and signed the contracts with the agency," said Mao.
The tour company, Zhejiang Boyue International Cultural Consulting and Services Co, also hired teachers from the school to accompany the students.
Rao Limin is the mother of a Jiangshan Middle School student who was a member of the ill-fated tour group, which arrived back in China on Saturday. She said that when her son, Mao Yihui, brought the tour brochures home she assumed the school would be involved in the trip. She insisted that she did not even know the name of the company when she paid for the tour.
"We just paid the money and thought the school would be responsible for everything else," said Rao, who admitted she didn't read the contract before signing it.
The 15-day program involved visits to university campuses, including UCLA, the University of California, Berkeley and Stanford University. The cost was 29,300 yuan ($4,773), excluding visa fees.
"As long as his English language skills can be improved by the study tour, we are willing to give him the opportunity to see the world. Money is not our primary concern," said Rao.
A 'precious opportunity'
Parents who share Rao's opinion said the events in San Francisco haven't affected their plans to send their children overseas.
Ying Hujing, a police officer from Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, said his 12-year old son, Kaizhong, will fly to Boston on July 17 for a three-week summer tour organized by Education First, one of the world's largest private education companies. It will be the boy's first experience of overseas travel without his parents.
"I still want my son to take this precious opportunity. By living with a local family he will experience local life and he will study at the language school to improve his spoken and written English," said Ying, who paid 41,000 yuan for Kaizhong's trip.
"I preferred to choose a program organized by a global educational company with mature resources and experience, rather than applying via schools, which are probably not authorized to run these sorts of programs," said Ying.
He said the tour will deepen his son's understanding of US culture and prepare him to study abroad over a longer period. Ying also plans for the boy to attend short-term programs in a number of countries so he will gradually become conversant with a variety of cultures.
"It will be more interesting and meaningful for my son to take part in overseas summer camps during the holidays, instead of wasting his time at home watching TV shows and playing video games all day," he said.
The market has surged in the past two or three years as an increasing number of parents have begun to realize the benefits of sending their children abroad on short-term study tours.
In 2012, 200,000 Chinese children traveled overseas on study tours, producing a market worth 6 billion yuan, according to official statistics quoted by the China News website.
"The Chinese study tour market is huge and has great potential. The children are happy to travel abroad and take part in interesting summer activities, and the parents hope their children will gain more skills," said Li Huanyu, China vice-president of All Americas Inc. The company, which provides educational programs, business training, and arranges tradeshows between the US and China, entered the Chinese market in 2005.
Li said the company has seen a huge surge in Chinese demand for study tours overseas. The number of applications rose threefold between 2010 and 2011 and Li expects the annual rate of increase to be about 20 percent for the next few years.
The company's target groups are middle and senior high school students, aged 13 to 17, and its themed tours to the US, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia focus on the arts, sciences and languages.
"Most Chinese parents are quite open-minded and often offer advice about our programs, which are regularly adjusted and diversified to meet customers' requirements," said Li.
Changes and competition
He noted that while most education agencies in China are authorized to offer summer study programs for students, some travel agencies are attempting to enter the market and boost profits by providing tours that have more to do with sightseeing than study.
However, the events in San Francisco are likely to prompt changes. "The accident will definitely affect the market temporarily as potential customers hesitate, but on the positive side any travel agencies running unauthorized programs will disappear as the monitoring system is tightened," said a sales manager in the global study tours department of Longre Education Group in Shanghai.
He said competition will become fiercer and that will force providers to offer programs with much higher standards.
Some parents believe that many short-term study tours are simply designed to extract exorbitant fees from wealthy parents.
"I don't believe that a study tour of 10 or 20 days will produce dramatic changes in my daughter. It's just a way of making money out of rich Chinese parents who are quite good at following trends," said Zu Xin from Wenzhou, Zhejiang province.
Zu's daughter, now aged 20, is an undergraduate at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.
"Although she had never been abroad for any sort of study tour before, she quickly grew accustomed to life in Canada and caught up with the local students in terms of coursework without any problems," said Zu.
She said a two-week family trip to a foreign city might be a better option than study tours, and would allow children to learn about a range of cultures more thoroughly.
One expert said that sending children overseas on study tours is a personal choice that only parents can make, but urged them to be wary of money traps and to carefully weigh all the decisions they make.
"Some parents are just following the herd when they apply for expensive study tours overseas. They don't bother to consider whether their child really needs to participate in this type of activity, which may be organized by companies that are not authorized to do so," said Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the 21th Century Education Research Institute.
Xiong stressed that customers must have greater awareness of their rights when choosing agencies and signing contracts, and urged the relevant authorities to introduce stringent regulation of the booming market.
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