EF's booth at an international children's cartoon expo in Beijing.
Education First, the Sweden major in private education, expects to double enrollment of students for its short-term summer courses in the next two to three years, driven by huge demand from Chinese parents, said its top executive.
Each year, more than a million Chinese people go abroad for study tours, including 300,000 for long-term courses.
Joe Chiu, country manager of the Education First International Language Center China, said overseas courses for teenagers have seen double-digit growth in recent years.
In China, Education First has more than 200 English learning centers for kids, teens and adults. Its overseas program places students in schools around the world, including 46 international schools in 16 countries covering seven languages.
The program allows students to live like locals and gain an in-depth learning experience. It aligns with the EF's mission to open up the world through education. Through its program, it hopes to mold students into better global citizens, said Chiu.
"Language is a skill, not just knowledge. It has to be applied on a daily basis. We want to make sure students get to apply the language."
EF's methodology is task-based. Students accomplish tasks such as ordering a burger or asking for directions in the foreign language they learn.
Many middle school and high school students enroll for such language courses, which are designed to prepare them for higher studies overseas in future. "Parent s want their children to get a taste of what it's like to live abroad," said Chiu.
English-speaking countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada are most popular among such parents.
EF designs its own programs, courses, activities and even arranges conveniences like local families as hosts for visiting students.
Chiu said China's education system is mostly exam-driven. But, in addition to high test scores, young people need good language skills to succeed as students, career professionals and self-reliant citizens.
So, institutes offering summer courses ensure students are well taken care of at local homes as most of them live by themselves for the first time in their life, often for up to two weeks. So, by immersing themselves in a completely English-marked environment all the while, summer students gain confidence, said Chiu.
More so because each group taking such courses tends to be cosmopolitan in character.
EF enrolls students from more than 100 countries who interact with each other and learn more about different cultures. They also gain the experience of living and learning in a multicultural environment. "We encourage everyone to mingle with students from other nations," Chiu said.
He said the average age of Chinese students enrolling for overseas summer courses is increasingly getting lower than that of European and American students.
"In China, parents want to send their kids to summer courses at an early age while in Europe, we have very few students aged below 10," said Chiu.
So, EF offers courses for younger kids aged just 4 or 5. Such students are accompanied by their parents. Popular destinations include Singapore and Australia where safety is accorded priority.
EF said while the goal of such training is to make kids grasp the idea of growing up to be independent, some Chinese parents tend to be overprotective. "We need to find a balance between students trying to be independent and their overprotective parents," he said.
All these various considerations are spawning opportunities as well as creating challenges. Chiu said the market has become very competitive and fragmented.
"We understand that the post-'80s parents haven't studied abroad themselves, so they might not have a clue as to what it's like to study abroad. We try to understand their expectations and clarify what exactly the course can deliver," Chiu said.
Yan Ping, 41, has sent her daughter Hu Jitong to EF's overseas programs four times since 2011 when she was 9.By living with a host family and learning at a multinational school, her daughter has overcome shyness, picked up languages and learnt how to solve problems with others, Yan said.
"The overseas experience can never be replaced by reading books or watching TV," said Yan, who will enroll her younger daughter, who will turn 6 this year, in a summer course abroad next year.