School’s out? Not in China, where children are under pressure to take summer courses to get ahead

According to online media platform Sohu News, parents in cities such as Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing, are most willing to spend on their children’s education during the break.

Learning to make sushi during a study tour of Japan in July. Photo: East Meets West

Learning to make sushi during a study tour of Japan in July. Photo: East Meets West

“I feel much more pressure during the summer holiday than on normal school days since I need to arrange different activities for them [her children],” said Chan Lee, a 40-year-old Guangzhou mother of two primary schoolchildren.

“A study tour costs 35,000 yuan and there are also classes and tutorials which are necessary to apply for,” she said, explaining that, since schools did not assign much summer homework, she sent her children to holiday classes to better prepare them for the next academic year.

Sending children on overseas tours has also become an indispensable part of the break, with nearly everyone in Chan’s children’s class joining a summer study tour to experience an overseas educational environment, culture, and language through meeting people, visiting famous universities and sightseeing.

Chan said her 11-year-old son had benefited from an 11-day tour of Italy, which included museum trips and a requirement to submit drawings after their experiences.

“You could feel that he had changed a lot after the tour. He was more organised and confident when communicating with others, as he knew more and had more things to share,” she said.

Guangzhou mother Chan Lee said her 11-year-old son benefited from his trip to Italy last year. Photo: Chan Lee

Guangzhou mother Chan Lee said her 11-year-old son benefited from his trip to Italy last year. Photo: Chan Lee

Cheng Guowei, a representative of the East Meets West study tour centre based in Shanghai, said parents were concerned about their children’s education.

“Nearly 95 per cent of our participants are students, most of them are primary and middle school kids. Yet this market is also very competitive, as there are many similar centres and institutions targeting the parents,” he said.

The company has been organising study tours since 2017 and now provides trips to several Asian and English-speaking countries.

Cheng said money was a big concern for parents, with most applying for more affordable destinations like Japan or Singapore, rather than European countries. His cheapest Asian tours cost about 10,000 yuan for six to seven days, with trips to English-speaking countries like the United States and Canada priced from 20,000, excluding air fares.

The study tours were not about academic knowledge but broadening horizons, Cheng said.

“To be honest, in just two weeks what kind of knowledge can they learn? But kids, of course, like study tours, which must be better than staying at home doing homework or attending classes,” he said.

According to the Sohu News survey, when parents are not making travel plans for their children, they are applying for special interest classes and supplementary tutorials to fill in the spare hours of the summer holiday.

Wu, a mother from Beijing, said she had applied for swimming, piano and tennis lessons, as well as English and homework tutorials for her young son.

“Because we both need to work and there is no one to stay home and take care of him, he needs to join different activities to enrich himself during the long holiday,” Wu said.

Children visit the University of California on a study tour to the United States. Photo: East Meets West

Children visit the University of California on a study tour to the United States. Photo: East Meets West

In total, the classes have cost the family about 9,000 yuan per month, or one third of their income. “I think there must be some pressure on summer holiday expenses since we still have to pay the house debt … [but] the goal of the summer classes is to let him improve himself and have a brighter future,” she said.

Communist Party newspaperPeople’s Daily surveyed more than 60 families on a range of monthly incomes in Beijing to find out how much parents were spending on their children’s summer holidays.

More than 60 per cent of respondents said they planned to spend 6,000 to 10,000 yuan on activities during the two-month summer holiday and 70 per cent said they felt stressed out by the expenditure.

It is not only the financial outlay putting pressure on parents. There is also the competitive mindset, with all hoping their children will make it to the top at school and in society.

On Weibo, a post about “Fight over 7,000 yuan summer supplementary classes” became a hot trend and attracted more than 180 million comments in July, as parents rushed to secure places for their children in the most popular holiday classes.

Children on a study tour to Japan. Photo: East Meets West

Children on a study tour to Japan. Photo: East Meets West

According to state broadcaster CCTV, some of the most prestigious classes were full two months ahead of the break, as parents rushed to “fight over” places for their children because they wanted them to “overtake” their classmates.

A Shandong mother, surnamed Chen, told online media outlet Ifeng News she was applying for different interest classes and tutorials for her children to give them a better chance of getting into a preferred middle school, which had more than 8,000 applicants for its 720 places in 2019.

Another Beijing mother, surnamed Lin, spent about 50,000 yuan this summer applying for Chinese, English and mathematics tutorials, as well as piano, fitness and calligraphy classes for her 14-year-old daughter, in preparation for middle school.

“When she started primary school, I applied for different activities for her and increased them yearly. Since she is now moving to middle school, this summer holiday we have put most of her time into her main subjects – Chinese, English, mathematics. During the summer holiday, kids can have more time to concentrate on study, which can improve academic results.”

Yin Jianli, a writer who specialises in family and education issues, said it was unnecessary to arrange activities for children during the summer holidays.

“Parents are not helping their children, they are just doing it to reduce their own anxiety,” she said.

Many parents thought they could buy their children a better education, “but actually, a holiday should be a time for rest and play, not study”, she said.

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