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August 5, 2013

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Overseas summer camps gain popularity despite lax regulation

More parents are sending their children to overseas summer camps even though the market is unregulated and organizers can charge excessive fees.

Students as young as first graders have been sent to overseas summer camps, North American and European destinations the most popular, even though a joint circular issued by the Ministry of Education and three other departments discouraged parents from sending children at such a tender age.

The camps generally include 20 to 30 students and two Chinese supervisors, usually teachers who can speak English.

Most parents think summer camp provides their children with an opportunity to see the world and improve their ability to speak foreign languages.

“I registered a global summer camp for my son in order to broaden his horizons,” said a resident surnamed Hu.

Hu’s son, a 12-year-old boy, went to the United States this summer for two weeks. It was organized by an English language training institute. He participated in some outdoor sports and visited museums. Hu said his son enjoyed it so much he didn’t want to come home.

“An important thing, I think, is my son has learned confidence,” Hu said. “I know it’s impossible for him to improve his English skills in such a short time, but at least he can speak English with confidence after communicating with foreigners during the summer camp.”

Hu is not alone.

Other parents said they sent their children to overseas summer camps to help their kids learn independence, cultivate passion for learning English and prepare for overseas study.

In some instances, institutions take advantage of well-meaning parents to make money.

Some camps take students to many free tourist sites, visit university campuses without entering them and, in extreme cases, leave them on the street while the teachers go shopping.

Hu said he paid 30,000 yuan (US$4,896) for the camp while a 14-day tour to the US costs only around 20,000 yuan, including admission to more tourist attractions.

In another case, a class of 40 students from the international division of a local high school went to Canada to study an ESL (English as a second language) course for a month. The fee was 50,000 yuan and most said they have since decided to study in Canada after graduating from high school.

Despite keen interest in such camps, they remain unregulated despite moves by the Ministry of Education.

In May 2012, a circular banning the organization of commercial overseas summer and winter camps was jointly issued by the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Public Security and National Tourism Administration.

However, officials said it is difficult to implement the circular and stamp out irregularities in the field.

“There are no punitive measures mentioned in the circular, and it does not clearly state which government departments should take responsibility for supervising the market or approving such activities,” said Yang Guoxi, an official with the Shanghai Tourism Administration.

Yang said the majority of overseas summer camps are organized by schools or education and training institutions, while travel agencies buy air tickets and work out routes.

He said the administration has not received any complaints about overseas summer camps in the last two years.

Yang Weiren, deputy director of the Shanghai Education Commission’s international department, called for punitive measures against individuals and institutions that organize “unqualified” summer and winter camps.



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