Parental over­sight

As more chil­dren study abroad, con­flicts with or­ga­niz­ers arise

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at caoyin@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Par­ents are be­ing urged to en­sure that they sign con­tracts and take time to study all the rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion be­fore al­low­ing their chil­dren to take study tours over­seas.

The warn­ings come after a num­ber of schools and ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions were sued by par­ents dis­sat­is­fied with the ser­vices pro­vided, the sub­jects taught and the food and ac­com­mo­da­tions on of­fer.

China’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment has re­sulted in ris­ing liv­ing stan­dards and in­comes, lead­ing a grow­ing num­ber of Chi­nese to head over­seas to study.

Last year, 523,700 Chi­nese ci­ti­zens stud­ied at un­der­grad­u­ate level over­seas, com­pared with 339,700 in 2011, ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics pro­vided by the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion. Mean­while, a wide range of pro­grams, such as sum­mer camps and non-de­gree study trips, are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar.

For most stu­dents, the trips of­fer an op­por­tu­nity to study in a new en­vi­ron­ment and de­velop so­cial skills. Most pass off with­out in­ci­dent, but some par­ents have sued or­ga­niz­ers for not pro­vid­ing the ser­vices promised, or be­cause food and ac­com­mo­da­tions failed to meet spec­i­fied stan­dards.

A fam­ily from Bei­jing re­cently sued a pri­vate mid­dle school after their 13-year-old son re­turned early from a 10-month study tour to the United States.

“We hoped a trip to the US would help broaden his hori­zons and ex­pe­ri­ence, so we al­lowed him to par­tic­i­pate in a study tour or­ga­nized by the school. But when he told us about the food and lodg­ings in the US, we weren’t sat­is­fied,” said the fam­ily, who pre­ferred not to name the boy or the school.

“We paid 330,000 yuan ($49,500), but we never thought the daily food al­lowance would be just $3.33 and he would have to share a room with 10 other stu­dents. We couldn’t ac­cept that, so we al­lowed him to come home early, and then sued the school .”

How­ever, the dis­pute wasn’t re­solved as eas­ily as the fam­ily had hoped. “They didn’t sign a for­mal con­tract with the school. In other words, they had no ev­i­dence to prove the or­ga­niz­ers didn’t de­liver what they had promised,” said Yang Lu, the judge who heard the case at Bei­jing No 3 In­ter­me­di­ate Peo­ple’s Court.

“The num­ber of sim­i­lar dis­putes be­tween fam­i­lies and study tour or­ga­niz­ers, in­clud­ing schools, is ris­ing,” she said, adding that four cases have been lodged with her court alone since the sum­mer va­ca­tion.

On July 15, Yang or­dered the school to re­turn 240,000 yuan of the tour fee.

“The par­ents were un­happy with the ver­dict — they thought all their money should have been re­funded — but it was ac­tu­ally a good re­sult be­cause both par­ties were at fault,” she said.

The court re­jected the school’s claim that it had pro­vided ba­sic in­for­ma­tion and con­tracts be­fore the tour be­gan. “The doc­u­ments were far from of­fi­cial and were un­ac­cept­able as ev­i­dence in court,” Yang said.

The school also said par­ents had been in­formed that liv­ing costs were not high as had been ex­pected, and the boy had left be­cause he was un­able to adapt to life in the US, she added.

How­ever, the par­ents were also cul­pa­ble, be­cause they failed to read the in­for­ma­tion pro­vided be­fore the visit, “let alone do some home­work, such as learn­ing about the reg­u­la­tions that pro­tect chil­dren.”

Lack of reg­u­la­tion

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port pub­lished in April by the ed­u­ca­tion ser­vice provider New Ori­en­tal Ed­u­ca­tion& Tech­nol­ogy Group, pri­mary and mid­dle school stu­dents ac­count for most of the chil­dren on over­seas study tours, which are mainly or­ga­nized schools and in­sti­tu­tions.

It noted that in the fu­ture a grow­ing num­ber of par­ents would pre­fer their chil­dren to par­tic­i­pate in study pro­grams or­ga­nized by schools, rather than other in­sti­tu­tions.

“China has no spe­cific laws to gov­ern th­ese study pro­grams, es­pe­cially long-term, non-de­gree tours,” Yang said.

Hu Guang, a judge at Bei­jing Haid­ian Dis­trict Peo­ple’s Court, said the gov­ern­ment should su­per­vise the study tour mar­ket, and called on par­ents by to im­prove their le­gal aware­ness be­fore al­low­ing their chil­dren to study over­seas.

‘Dis­or­derly’ rise

Over­seas study at un­der­grad­u­ate level is well pro­tected un­der Chi­nese law, while in­ter­na­tional ex­changes un­der­taken by uni­ver­si­ties in China and abroad are gov­erned by strict rules de­vised by the ed­u­ca­tion min­istry.

“In other words, the rise in study vis­its, those or­ga­nized by schools for stu­dents, most of them younger than 15, has been dis­or­derly,” said Yang, who has called for the mar­ket to be reg­u­lated as quickly as pos­si­ble.

She is also con­cerned about the le­gal­ity of such tours: “I’m not sure whether schools— as part of the coun­try’s pub­lic ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem— have the right to un­der­take com­mer­cial ac­tiv­i­ties and sign con­tracts with par­ents.”

De­spite the re­cent prob­lems, Judge Hu be­lieves study vis­its should be en­cour­aged: “Go­ing out, see­ing the world and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing dif­fer­ent cul­tures is good for stu­dents. What we should do is en­sure chil­dren’s safety over­seas,” he said.

“It’s es­sen­tial to sign a con­tract with the or­ga­niz­ers, and par­ents should pay close at­ten­tion to safety clauses, such as those re­lated to med­i­cal care and san­i­ta­tion.”

Hu said par­ents should im­prove their risk aware­ness and at­tempt to learn ba­sic con­tract law to clar­ify each party’s re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, es­pe­cially as schools are of­ten the main or­ga­niz­ers, but travel agen­cies or ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions run the ac­tual tours. “That of­ten means their du­ties are dif­fer­ent,” he said, re­fer­ring to dif­fer­ing ar­eas of re­spon­si­bil­ity, such as which party should pay com­pen­sa­tion if things fail to go as planned.

De­tails equal safety

Both Yang and Hu called on par­ents to read all the rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion care­fully be­fore al­low­ing their chil­dren to par­tic­i­pate in trips or­ga­nized by in­sti­tu­tions.

“The more specifics an ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion pro­vides, the safer the chil­dren will be,” Yang said. “Be­cause school­based study tours are un­reg­u­lated, par­ents are ad­vised to se­lect large, qual­i­fied ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions with good rep­u­ta­tions.”

Kou Fei, who over­sees for­eign study tours at the Ed­u­ca­tion In­ter­na­tional Co­op­er­a­tion Group, said the com­pany in­sists that par­ents sign a con­tract be­fore their child can par­tic­i­pate. “It’s a must for us. We pro­vide spe­cific in­for­ma­tion, such as what the stu­dents will eat and where they will live, in the doc­u­ment. Par­ents are shown photos and videos of the food, lodg­ings, trans­porta­tion and what the chil­dren will study,” she said.

If tours have been or­ga­nized by a school, the group out­lines its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and those of the school. “We sep­a­rate our re­spon­si­bil­i­ties from those of the school, and in­form par­ents which party to con­tact if prob­lems oc­cur,” she added.

“The clearer the sep­a­ra­tion of re­spon­si­bil­ity, the eas­ier it is to re­solve dis­putes.”

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

A tour group of pri­mary stu­dents pass a bor­der port in Rizhao, Shan­dong prov­ince, be­fore they head for a study tour in South Korea dur­ing the win­ter va­ca­tion in Jan­uary.

YURI SMITYUK / TASS

A Rus­sian teacher shows a Chi­nese stu­dent par­tic­i­pat­ing in an in­ter­na­tional sum­mer school in Vladi­vos­tok, Rus­sia, how to paint wooden nest­ing dolls.

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