Why Chinese Parents Spend Huge Amounts of Money on Children’s Summer Programs
An article titled “A Monthly Salary of 30,000 RMB [±4490$] Is Not Enough for a Child’s Summer Vacation” (“月薪三万，还是撑不起孩子的一个暑假”), which recently went viral on WeChat, describes how a woman with a well-paid job hardly earns enough money to pay for her daughter’s summer schedule during her school vacation.
The mother, who works as a senior executive in Guangzhou, earns nearly $4500 per month. Although this is 13 times higher than the minimum monthly wage in China, the woman still said she was afraid to buy new clothes due to the costs of the busy summer program of her daughter, a 5th grader at a well-known Guangzhou school.
“If you spend this money, it makes you feel bad. But if you don’t spend this money, it makes you feel bad for your child.”
The extravagant summer program highlighted in the article includes a ten-day study tour through the USA, a daytime nanny, piano lessons, swimming classes, and summer classes in English language, Olympic maths, and Writing. In total, the mother spent at least 35,000 RMB (±5240$) on her daughter’s summer ‘vacation.’
“The most torturous is that if you spend this money, it makes you feel bad. But if you don’t spend this money, it makes you feel bad for your child,” the mother said.
It’s not uncommon to see competition between Chinese parents over who are investing the most in their child’s education. The idea of never letting children “lose at the starting line” has become a common belief.
During school holidays, China’s wealthy families often send their children abroad for high-profile education. Middle-class parents struggle to compete with them, filling up their children’s holidays with English classes and overseas summer camps. Also at the lower-class levels, parents aim to educate their children during summer to become the next top scorers at the Gaokao (the national college entrance examination).
In the online essay, the daughter’s study trip to America is the most expensive activity of her summer program. Besides special classes and language training, the popularity of these types of expensive overseas summer camps is growing. According to a survey conducted by China Daily on these summer camps abroad, its participants are mainly middle-school and high-school students.
The most popular destinations are mainly English-speaking countries such as the USA, Canada, Australia or the UK, but Germany and Japan also have a high ranking. Although the prices vary, these trips never come cheap. Most of these programs cost around 20,000 to 30,000 RMB (3000$-4500$).
“They compare it like they compare luxury clothes or cars.”
Through overseas summer programs, parents hope that their children will practice their English, learn to be more independent, and experience “Western education” – and they are more than willing to pay for it, even if it costs them thousands of dollars.
But there is more to this than the mere hope that busy summer programs will contribute to a child’s personal development. As recently reported by Chinese newspaper Global Times, Chinese parents in the urban middle class are increasingly suffering from peer pressure when it comes to investing in their child’s education.
Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, told Global Times: “(..) if a monthly salary of 30,000 yuan could not support a holiday, there must be irrational comparisons going on,” adding: “They compare it [overseas study trips] like they compare luxury clothes or cars.”
“If a monthly salary of 30,000 RMB is not enough for a kid’s summer holiday, parents should do some self-reflection.”
Meanwhile, many educational companies and institutions smell the business opportunities and are out to make a quick buck. Some of them charge huge amounts of money for low-quality accommodations or cheap food – sometimes even causing a safety hazard for children. This trendy summer activity has become a lucrative but under-regulated phenomenon, forming a potential risk to children.
After the aforementioned article went viral, several state-run Chinese media such as the People’s Daily and Beijing Youth Daily immediately posted articles denouncing parents’ decisions to enroll their children in overseas study trips. They mentioned another reason for the extravagant study trips, saying it is a way for parents to “show off their money” through their children’s education.
The Beijing Youth Daily wrote: “If a monthly salary of 30,000 RMB is not enough for a kid’s summer holiday, parents should do some self-reflection to ask themselves if this is reasonable.”
The People’s Daily also criticized the current pressure on children in their education, appealing to “lighten the burden on children” and to “diminish the tendency of comparison among parents.”
“Only ridiculous people will object to this mother’s decisions. She merely wants to create better education opportunities for her daughter.”
The debate on children’s expensive summer program also unfolded among Chinese Weibo users, who are mainly divided into three groups.
One group firmly supports the mother’s decision on investing in her child’s education. They think it’s important and worthwhile. As one commenter wrote:
“Only ridiculous people will object to this mother’s decisions. She merely wants to create better education opportunities for her daughter to expand her horizons and make her more knowledge. Is this called ‘showing off money'(..)? Now that we have these bettered conditions for our younger generations, there’s nothing wrong with using them to help them become all-round individuals. Do you want them to be like you in the future, so poor and useless?”
The second group of people firmly rejects how parents are overspending on education: “What do you want me to say if you earn 30,000 RMB per month but live the life of someone who makes 50,000 RMB?” They also condemn how the mother burdens her child with a busy schedule, ruining her holiday.
The third group of commenters blames China’s education system for the extravagant summer study trips. The Chinese school system heavily relies on comparing children through their grades.
“No amount of money is when it comes to comparison and vanity. It is this comparison that makes children and parents feel inferior and unsatisfied. What if we cancel the system of Gaokao and encourage a system that celebrates diversity?”
Besides all this critique on children’s summer trips, there are also people who bring the discussion to a next level and question China’s class division and unbalanced education resources.
As reported by China Daily, Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou are the top three cities where students participate in overseas summer programs.
Uncoincidentally, these are also cities that are top-ranking when it comes to the highest salaries in China. For parents from less developed cities with less income, the chances of being able to afford a proper education for their children are much smaller. For them, it is simply impossible to send their children on extravagant study trips to America or Europe.
Additional editing by Manya Koetse
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