How to put the study into an 'educational' tour
One of the buzz words this summer is yanxue, or study tour, but in most cases it is just a tour conducted in the name of a study.
The slightest imagination is only needed to tweak a tourist destination into educational outing. Travel with a yuanshi (an academician), attending university in the Forbidden City, or zero distance from straight A students in Peking or Tsinghua university campuses.
Entrance to these destinations is so sought after that the authority are cracking down on scalping, not only to such popular destinations as the Forbidden City, where tickets and reservation are needed, but also to campuses of prestigious universities, where visitors enter by appointment. A packaged study tour of Peking can cost 10,800 yuan (US$1,500).
A couple of days ago, I read in my WeChat moments these ruminations by a mother traveling with her son now in middle school: All the way northward, from Shanghai to Nanjing, to Harbin and then to Mudanjiang. The over-scheduled child can now enjoy a breath of rest on the northward journey. One of the highlights of the trip is to visit the father's alma mater in Harbin.
They have to skip Beijing, because of their failure to secure appointments.
The boy insisted they should ride on the slowest train so as to take in the best view. Lucky that, traveling by themselves, they could still exercise some free choice.
All with all study, things are best learned in a leisurely and steady context, with minimal distractions. A heavily compressed itinerary in a commercial package tour cannot be farther from that aim, as the little scholars are being shepherded from one destination to the next, with overworked guides inspired by the urge to make a quick buck.
Although precursors of study tours can be traced to centuries ago, to such exotic fashion as Grand Tour, where the beneficiaries expected to gain knowledge of classical past, and the socially desirable skills of a connoisseur, it was a leisurely journey through Europe lasting two or three years.
Such leisurely travel along established route allowed the youth to muse on the Alpine scenes, Roman glories or ruins.
I do not think we need to create such routes in China, because each place has such a rich and unique legacy of resources worthy prying into.
These expensive tours in the name of study, if not guided properly, threaten to become a kind of conspicuous consumption pressurizing those families who could not afford the money or the escort.
Since I think an over-patronized cultural establishment, however iconic, is not conducive to the genial, cultured milieu leading the young minds to be inspired, why not give more attention to meticulously developed local programs, right in your community?
In the Dongming Community in Pudong, for instance, there is a holiday bilingual tutorial for select business operators who are too busy to take care of their children.
Among other things, the students are required to create a scripted video tour of the central business street, and come up with a written description of the business their parents happen to be engaged in.
They would also have a chance to visit the Oriental Pearl TV Tower and NYU Shanghai campus which is just a short distance away. By collaborating on some events the students get to know about their community, and about each other.
Recently I also saw how such events could be held in the remote Fengyuan Village in Zhuji, Zhejiang Province. Here about 20 students from a vocational school in Shaoxing sponsored a holiday tutorial for over 10 days for 30 villager kids, teaching them dancing, painting, handicraft, sports and music. This is a village where many kids are taken care of by their grandparents, since their parents are making a living far from the home.
The village is at the side of a mountain, which affords plenty of chances to get to know local flora and fauna.
China is such a vast country with diversified terrain that each location has plenty of resources for locally developed programs for children that can be more manageable and meaningful.
There is also the urgency of creating a regime that would place providers of the study tours under rigorous control.