Subscribe to our newsletter

     By signing up, you agree to our Terms Of Use.


    • About Us
    • |
    • Contribute
    • |
    • Contact Us
    • |
    • Sitemap

    For Chinese Parents, Even Vacations Are Opportunities For Learning

    Parents are taking the old Chinese saying of ‘traveling thousands of miles is better than reading thousands of books’ very seriously.
    Aug 09, 2023#education#tourism

    Shanghai mother Jane Zhou has been sending her two daughters, both still in primary school, to commercial study tours and camps during weekends and school holidays over the past two years. Most recently, the two daughters participated in a tour of the Bund One Art Museum in Shanghai organized by a travel agency. 

    Seeing her two daughters listening to introductions to the masterpieces of Italian painter Sandro Botticelli, Zhou felt that all her efforts had been worth it.

    Zhou is among a growing group of parents in China who are favoring “study tours” for their children when they are not at school. These experiences focus on educational content, and typically involve visits to museums, university campuses, and libraries. They can also be summer camps, including intense “character-building” boot camps. 

    For Zhou, the trips are invaluable for “broadening the horizons” of her daughters. Fellow Shanghai mother Liu Ying agrees. For her, ordinary tourist activities are “a waste of time,” as her fourth grade child would not be learning anything. 

    Driven by parents like Zhou and Liu, demand for study tours has soared this summer and become lucrative business for travel agencies and camp organizers. In July, bookings for study tours soared more than thirtyfold year-on-year, according to data from online travel agency Group. The market is expected to expand 61.6% year-on-year to 146.9 billion yuan ($20.4 billion) this year, according to a report from research agency iiMedia Research. 

    The government has been encouraging primary and middle schools to organize more educational field trips since 2016. However, budget limitations and safety concerns have limited schools’ ability to organize such trips, leaving a huge market for commercial players to meet demand, from tutoring companies to travel agencies, according to Pan Helin, a co-director at Zhejiang University’s Digital Economy and Financial Innovation Research Center. 

    The trend has reached new heights this summer, buoyed by the resurgence of domestic tourism, as well as increased social media marketing. A search of “study tours” on parent-child activity booking platform Maitao yields hundreds of activities, such as a five-day tour of Beijing, priced at over 6,000 yuan, which includes visits to the Great Wall and hutong neighborhoods, as well as handicraft workshops at the Forbidden City.

    Like extreme summer boot camps for children, these study tours have also been criticized by parents for poor organization and safety concerns. A Shanghai-based mother decided to cut short her child’s six-day study tour in Beijing after visits to Tsinghua University and Peking University, two of the most prestigious universities in China, were canceled at the last minute.

    According to her post on lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu, children on the tour were expected to be up by 6 a.m. because their hotel was too far from the places they were scheduled to visit.

    The high prices of these tours have also been criticized by parents, with international study tours charging up to 10,000 yuan. Shanghai-based mother Wang Jia told Sixth Tone that her 9-year-old daughter’s six-day bilingual character-building camp in Shanghai cost her 7,200 yuan.

    On social media, parents have also complained that their children do not receive sufficient attention during these trips. Zhejiang University’s Pan believes that these complaints stem from the current poor quality of educational tour providers.

    “It requires considerable investment in syllabus design to properly combine learning and tourism. The lack of sufficient research, teams, and relevant qualifications are the reasons for the prevalence of substandard services now,” said Pan. He calls for stricter regulation of the market, including clearer specifications of the responsibilities of organizing agencies and requirements for tour guides.

    A Hangzhou-based private English tutor surnamed Pan has been organizing study tours for her students since 2021. In her opinion, study tours are only beneficial for the children participating if there are pre- and post-tour study courses complementing the field trip. 

    “These details are often ignored by agencies that entered the market to cash in on the frenzy,” she said, citing the example of tour organizers that have even failed to purchase required train tickets for their participants.

    Following a series of disappointing encounters with commercial tour packages, Shanghai mother Liu Ying decided to take matters into her own hands. Along with several other mother friends, Liu founded an unofficial learning group to organize study tours for their children. On weekends, the mothers take turns taking the children to different museums and galleries. 

    Even with the “double reduction” policy in effect, parents know the importance of preparing their children for significant exams, Liu said. 

    “As the old Chinese saying goes, ‘traveling thousands of miles is better than reading thousands of books,’” she said.  

    Additional reporting: Li Xinran; editor: Vincent Chow.

    (Header image: Children at a summer camp in Dunhuang Museum, in Jiuquan, Gansu province, July 23, 2023. VCG)