|YIt's tough to organise good language programmes for juniors. For a start, motivation to learn may be lacking in younger students. "It can be easier for teachers to work with 20-year-old motivated adults than with 15-year-old teenagers sent by their parents or teachers," emphasises William Rubinstein, Director of International House (IH) Nice in France.
Compared with adult language courses, programmes for juniors also require considerably more resources. "Junior programmes are most definitely more labour-intensive," confirms Alexander Kratochwil at Good Hope Studies in Cape Town, South Africa. "Parents are more sensitive and require more detailed information. Activities, every day, sometimes even during the evening, need to be organised to the smallest detail." Because of this, he says, "We urge agents to book way in advance to be able to plan carefully."
Kate Kuzma, Coordinator of English Language & Culture Programmes at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) in Toowoomba, QLD, Australia, agrees. "These programmes are particularly labour-intensive, compared with programmes for university-aged students, principally because we must ensure the students are ‘looked after', that is, they have a USQ staff member with them at all times." USQ also provides access to an interpreter. "Our interpreter visits the students before class each day while the students are on campus so that they are able to ask questions in their native language or voice any concerns they may have."
Patrik Simunec at MWS Student Camps International in Toronto, ONT, Canada underlines the important role of their staff in junior programmes. "We have always maintained low student-to-staff ratios in order to ensure that the children are always well looked after and engaged in learning at all times," he says. "Selection and training of staff is key they make or break your programmes when working with juniors."
Supervision around the clock
At Cervantes International in Malaga, Spain, Esther Gutiérrez says that students are cared for 24 hours a day. "We have some monitors that accompany the students in the afternoons to carry out the activities," she explains, adding that host families have responsibility for the children when they are not at school and must ensure their safety at these times.
Safety is one of the key issues when dealing with juniors. "In everything we do, we consider the safety of our students as top priority," asserts Yvonne Hanis at LAL Fort Lauderdale in Florida, USA. "During the day, we have group leaders assigned to all activities and follow safety procedures when on tours. Our Young Learner Programme Manager resides at the student residence therefore he/she is on call at all times, plus we have group leaders on the premises at all times. Furthermore, we hire a security guard for the entire summer period. His job is to check the hotel premises throughout the night. All homestay students must be off the residence property by 8pm and spend the night in the care of their host family."
In the UK, all people who work with children (including host families) have to undergo a police check before they start, to determine if they have a criminal record. Rubinstein in France says this has a knock-on effect for their British clients. "The British are very tough on security. For them, police checks [on staff] have to be asked for, which is very unusual in France."
Business is growing, diversifying
But working with juniors is certainly rewarding, say Rubinstein. Growth in the youth sector of the market is generally positive, even when adult numbers may be stagnating, and repeat bookings are high.
"We welcome more and more teenagers," reports Rubinstein. "The number [of juniors] is increasing and could represent 20 per cent of our total income [in the near future]." This, he says, is particularly refreshing as adult numbers at the school are on a downward roll.
At the end of last summer, IH Nice was "over-packed" with school parties, according to Rubinstein, and as a consequence of this growing demand, the school is planning to launch a new summer residential course for juniors aged between 12 and 17 years for this year. A growing trend for language programmes that also provide residential accommodation is something that is being noted across a number of student markets. In our survey of Italian agencies in this issue, for example, it is reported that residential accommodation is now the most popular option requested by clients (see pages 16-17).
A similar picture of surplus bookings is painted by Hanis at LAL Fort Lauderdale, who reports growing interest in their junior courses. "We had to turn away students during the peak period [last summer] as we were completely sold out," she recounts. Like IH Nice, LAL Fort Lauderdale has plans to expand its course provision for the junior market from next year, offering a course for older teenagers on Lynn University Campus in Boca Raton. "The lack of space will no longer be [a problem]," asserts Hanis.
LAL's on-campus programme has been developed to complement its other summer courses at the Fort Lauderdale centre, and Hanis believes it will generate considerable demand. "This is our first year offering a programme on a university campus and we feel there is great interest for this setting," she says, adding that it will allow "some of the older students to have a ‘feel' of what it may be like at an American university".
Junior source markets
The nationality mix of junior students depends, to a large degree, on the destination of the school in question and its distance from the student's home. "Proximity to market has always been defining with younger students," confirms Simunec. "Generally speaking, Latin American families feel very comfortable sending their children to Canada due to [the] relative proximity [of Canada] and their positive view of Canadian society. European and Asian markets are always more challenging, especially for younger children."
Because of this, MWS in Toronto welcomes mostly Latin American juniors onto their programmes, followed by European and Asian students. However, Simunec notes that there is "steady growth" at their school from both the short- and long-haul markets.
In South Africa, Kratochwil reports a healthy mix of juniors from such provider countries as France, Spain, Germany, Brazil, Argentina and Korea. He adds, "Due to good agent contacts, the number of Argentineans and Spaniards has increased."
At USQ in Australia, the main junior nationalities are Japanese and Korean, who travel in closed groups, according to Kuzma. "Since 2001 we have regularly hosted a Japanese group of 88 students aged 13 and 14," she says. "We have also hosted a number of smaller groups of students from both Korea and Japan."
While the nationality mix remains relatively stable for many junior programme providers, Kuzma observes,"In recent years, the Korean market has overtaken the Japanese market." Hanis in the USA also recounts that their junior nationalities have changed owing to the expansion of the European Union, as it is now easier for students from a wider range of countries to obtain visas for the USA.
Closed group growth
Most junior operators agree that growth is coming from closed groups, rather than individuals. Gutiérrez at Cervantes International in Spain, for example, reports a growing number of closed groups as opposed to individuals and very short stays of between one and two weeks only. Simunec in Canada confirms a trend to shorter stays with their average dropping from four to three weeks in recent years.
Given the buoyancy of the junior sector, competition is fierce, and new players are constantly joining the fray. LSI Brighton in the UK piloted a junior course for a closed group of Italians last year, which, according to John Jefferys at the school, "went off very well". As a result of this success the school is to continue to offer programmes for groups of juniors.
Among the established junior players, it is paramount that they ensure top quality junior provision and that their reputations continue to flourish. And there is certainly no room for complacency. Rubinstein puts their increasing junior numbers down to their growing reputation as well as the fact that "sometimes competitors make mistakes by taking things for granted".
Simunec at MWS believes that it is important to find "something that differentiates you from all the other language programmes offered". He continues, "Today, almost everyone seems to be offering summer language programmes for juniors. In our view, working with young people is a completely different experience with different challenges and expectations than working with adults."
Dynamic activities are key
Little has changed over the years to the winning recipe that makes up a good junior programme. Junior courses generally involve a highly organised combination of morning tuition with afternoon, and sometimes evening, activities. But these courses have become more sophisticated in recent times, with greater accommodation options and variety of activities offered.
At Cervantes International in Malaga, Spain, junior students can stay either in student apartments or with host families, the latter being recommended for younger students. According to Esther Gutiérrez at the school, younger students are placed with host families with children of their own age to ensure they have maximum exposure to Spanish language and culture, and are in a safe family environment. However, other junior operators report that juniors and their parents generally prefer residential accommodation.
As to activities, most schools offer a wide selection of things for students to do. For example, ELT Banbury in the UK organises barbecues, discos, sports events and excursions to cities and places of interest for its juniors. However, junior demand has changed, according to Mark Joel at the school. "Lots of students now want to go on extended trips to places like Euro Disney [and] we have met this demand."
Alexander Kratochwil at Good Hope Studies in Cape Town, South Africa, confirms the desire from juniors for different activities. "There is a trend for more exciting activities like rugby, whale watching [and] safari rather than just sightseeing," he comments. He also believes that the range of activities available in South Africa will propel future growth. "The junior sector will further grow as South Africa is a very popular and exciting destination that has much to offer juniors," he claims. "Especially the countless outdoor options from various sports on land to the possibility of a safari are very attractive to juniors."
Active learning is very much the buzzword for education as a whole, especially when it comes to juniors, and many schools ensure their activities link up with classroom learning. Patrik Simunec at MWS Student Camps International in Toronto, ONT, Canada says they evaluate their classes each year. One area they are constantly tweaking is in providing "active learning".
"For example," he says, "for [students aged] seven to 10, [we offer] overnight visits to zoo safaris where kids meet with biologists and learn about animal feeding and care thus the classroom becomes active and mobile. And for older age groups, [we put them in] leadership and teaching roles with younger groups, as the best way to learn is to teach someone else."