January 2010 issue

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Young learner programmes

The young learners’ market remains buoyant and dynamic, with innovative activities and high standards of care are prerequisite, says Gillian Evans.

Demand in the USA for junior programmes is so high, according to Tasha Hacker, Director of Studies of International House (IH) New York, that the school switched its product strategy when it became apparent that there was such strong demand in this sector. “When we opened, we thought we would start with adult classes, but it turned out that there was a greater demand for younger learner courses, so we’ve adapted to that,” she relates. Today, around 70 per cent of IH New York’s total student intake is aged 16 and under.

The junior sector is a lucrative and growing part of the study abroad industry, according to many, but it is an area in which providers have to keep a close eye on quality and detail to ensure the safety and welfare of their young clients – and the peace of mind of their parents.

A watchful eye
Robin Adams at Global Village (GV) in Canada, says, “The successful delivery of any teen or junior programme depends on there being enough supervision for each student. This is why GV limits the size of the junior programmes we offer so as to ensure that all students are in a controlled and caring environment and the needs of individual students are not lost or sacrificed for profit.”
Dealing with younger children also means that provision must be made to ensure their well being 24-hours a day. Mandarin House, which has language centres in Beijing and Shanghai, China, provides courses for children as young as seven. “Special attention is given [to the youngest students], and an important factor is communication with their parents,” says the school’s Jasmine Bian.

Enforex in Spain teaches children from five years old. To ensure their safety and happiness at the schools, Enforex has counsellors who are assigned to groups of eight to 12 students. “They spend 24 hours a day with their group, act as mentors and tutors and take care of any needs or concerns the students may have,” explains Caroline Norris at Enforex.

As well as ensuring the children’s welfare, the other key to a successful junior programme is, according to Petra Wagner at Easy Sprachreisen in Germany, flexibility “regarding dates, activities, accommodation – the more options the better”, she says.

Junior course providers around the globe have been busy meeting the demand for flexibility. Enforex has offered its summer Enfocamp for the past 19 years. Its formula is the typical summer course mix of tuition in the morning followed by activities such as sports, competitions, parties and excursions in the afternoons and at weekends. With a wide range of locations on offer, students can combine stays in seven different cities in Spain. “Over the past few years we have noticed demand change to a more varied course; this is why we offer such great diversity in our courses to enable our students to virtually design their own course,” says Norris. “All camps are exclusively located at prestigious private school facilities which means that everything is on-site,” she adds.

Hacker at IH in New York – which offers closed group classes for younger learners – says that demand from individual juniors has prompted them to expand into this area too.

Maintaining novelty
Making courses fun is obviously important when dealing with juniors, and to appeal to this sector, Oxford International Study Centre in Oxford, UK offers options such as Harry Potter School of Wizards and Alice in Wonderland tour, while Silc, which has a network of centres in France, offers a ‘cook, draw and play with French’ programme as well as football in Nantes. Study Group has also enhanced its junior courses by bringing dance, art and drama specialists on board, and Ceran Lingua International has added golf courses offered by professionals everyday.

More and more providers are trying to use worldwide interest in football to encourage language course uptake, with Berlitz Manchester now offering a co-branded course that involves football training at Manchester United Football Club (page 7), while Anglophiles Academic in the UK has exclusive rights to the use of the David Beckham Academy in London during the summer season.

Younger and cheaper
According to Ceran’s Roland Bartholomé, from this year, they will accept students from nine years old and upwards, and many junior course providers report a continuing trend for courses for younger students.

Volodia Maury-Laribiere at Silc reports, “Most of our junior students are around 15 to 16 [although] we have had more demand for younger juniors, around 10, from Eastern Europe.” In Spain, Norris reports, “In recent years there has been greater demand for courses for very young juniors, in particular children from the US.”

But the global economic downturn has led to parents looking for more economical packages. Barbara Loosli of Linguista Sprachaufenthalte Follow Me in Switzerland says that Malta has now become their number-one destination for juniors, partly because students can learn English while enjoying a Mediterranean beach holiday, but also because it is cheaper than the UK.

Hacker in New York also observes a trend towards more cost-consciousness. “Incoming groups have tighter budgets and are looking to save money on accommodation and excursions.” IH New York has managed to reduce the price tag for its junior courses by offering cheaper accommodation and adapting its excursions programme to include more free events.

Adams in Canada says they too have observed this trend. “There is agrowing trend for increasingly more academic and perhaps fewer activities injunior courses,” he relates. “This reduces costs for parents and ensures a greater concentration on the educational goals parents have for their children.”

Emerging trendsAs well as more cost-conscious clients, the junior sector has also witnessed a move towards more academic learning. Carolyn Llewelyn from Oxford International Study Centre says they have experienced a rise in demand for English plus academic programmes, such as preparation for the Common Entrance exam, pre-GCSE programmes, and “some demand for project work in summer to replace some of the social activities”. Bartholomé also mentions a trend towards exam preparation which has led Ceran to offer this as an optional extra.

In China, Bian notes that not only have they extended the maximum camp length of stay to 10 weeks in order, she says, to meet demand from parents, but that there is also a focus on more practical learning.

Another notable trend in the junior sector is a move away from host family accommodation towards residential, as observed by a number of providers. “We find that fewer people want host family accommodation than was the case 10 years ago,” confirms Lucy Greaves at Study Group. However, she adds that host family accommodation remains strong with Chinese students. And GV recently introduced a residential option in Toronto. Andrew Lennox from the Glasgow School of English believes that residential accommodation is also the safest option for juniors. “We have been running young learner programmes for the last three years,” he relates. “This year, we changed the location to a new place, Stirling University Campus. All the facilities are on campus. We do not offer homestay accommodation. I believe that keeping the group together with other groups (international groups) provides a safer environment and allows us to control the group and what the group does. I have doubts about homestay accommodation because it is impossible for the school to ensure that everyone within a homestay has been disclosure-checked.”Year-end observations

What caused the junior sector some casualties in 2009 was concerns over swine flu. Llewelyn blames their drop in summer numbers from Japan and China on this, as does Maury-Laribiere at Silc. However, Adams reports that although they did experience some cancellations, the sector performed “as expected”.

Study Group also suffered some losses in enrolments. “We were slightly affected by swine flu with some students, particularly the Chinese, cancelling prior to the summer on advice from their government,” reports Greaves. Nevertheless, Study Group’s junior numbers were up slightly in 2009, with a greater proportion of under-12 year olds from China and Russia in particular.

Adams maintains that factors such as “direct flights to key destinations” and “the increasing emphasis on English as a subject in elementary school curriculum in non English-speaking countries” is fuelling demand. Bian reports that as more parents realise the importance of the Mandarin language, junior numbers have been growing steadily and today account for 18 per cent of the school’s total enrolments.

Bolstering junior numbers around the world is the fact that juniors are now travelling further for their language study. Maury-Laribiere reports that they have been receiving more requests from South American and Central European juniors, which she puts down to Silc developing agent relations there.

Greaves believes their growing number of juniors from Eastern Europe is because of cheaper and more regular flight connections with the UK. Bartholomé from Ceran says that the Russian market has been growing rapidly for them while Mariló Estevan at Caxton College in Spain says they have experienced a surge from the USA.

As the market diversifies, demand is spreading into the quieter months of the year. Greaves notes a demand for closed groups programmes in the “off season” months between September and June, while Lennox reports demand from new markets such as Thailand and Tunisia in off-peak times which they have until now been unable to meet.

Family courses

Mike Wittig, International Training Coordinator at NRCSA in the USA, reports that family courses, where parents and children take a language course at the same school and often come together for excursions, are extremely popular. “If we could find more quality family programmes we would offer them,” he says.

Barbara Loosli, Managing Director of Linguista Sprachaufenthalte Follow Me in Switzerland, also reports good uptake of such programmes.

“We started offering family courses a couple of years ago and the demand is quite high for this and is very popular,” she explains. “We offer [family courses] in England, France and in Malta. Accommodation, course, activities and travel are included,” she adds.

Global Village English in Canada can cater for parent-child programmes although they do not offer a specific course for them, according to Robin Adams at the school. “We certainly do see more requests for the so-called ‘parent-child’ programmes,” he says. “Typically, parents will request 20 lessons per week standard courses and enrol their children in intensive study plus activity programmes. Our structure is flexible and encourages ‘parent-child’ registrations.”

In Belgium, Ceran also arranges parent-child programmes at its adult and junior centres which are within 35 kilometres of each other. “This is very convenient and parents are reassured (close by but not together),” comments Roland Bartholomé. “If they want, the family can spend the weekend together.”

Mandarin House in China also offers a family course, which according to Jasmine Bian at the school is becoming increasingly popular. Explaining their family programme, Bian says, “Parents participate in our adult course, while their children enjoy the Summer Camp with other juniors. On Saturdays there is an outing with all parents and children.” As demand for such programmes grows, more schools are adapting their wares to cater to them. Study Group launches its parent and junior course this year. “We have a small number of spaces for parents who would like to study English at the same time as their children,” explains Study Group’s Lucy Greaves, Manager of Trade Marketing Communications. “Parents will follow the standard programme for the centre although lessons will be separate from the younger students,” she notes

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