In traditional education, children learn 'what to do,' but in camp education, they learn 'how to do' and honestly know what they are doing.
Camp Education Background
Camp education originated in the United States and has been around for more than 150 years. It is an innovative form of education based in camps, where campers achieve the purpose of being educated through living in camps and experiential activities. Regardless of the type of camp, the common feature is experiential learning, which allows youth to 'play with purpose' and 'explore themselves in depth' through creative camp activities.
The essence of camp education is to nurture children's social and emotional development and to seek quality, personalized and life-changing experiences for children. The time spent at camp leaves children with memories and experiences that will last a lifetime. Through camp education, children can get close to nature, get away from electronics, get fit and healthy, develop independent habits, and work on non-cognitive skills such as responsibility, social skills and empathy.
There are many sub-categories in the camp education business, including but not limited to: learning travel, overseas study tour, labor education, parent-child tours, nature education, etc. These sub-categories are interrelated but have independent business characteristics.
Double Reduction Policy
Over the years, students and parents have increasingly felt the weight of academic pressure caused by the fierce competition in secondary and high school exams, which has spilled over into primary and secondary schools. As a result, parents hope that extracurricular classes will enable their children to surpass others, thus causing them to spend most of their time studying, which puts a lot of pressure on them and compresses their time for exercise, affecting both their physical and mental health.
In April 2021, the Chinese Ministry of Education issued a policy to ban homework as an essential part of the daily supervision of out-of-school training institutions, effectively avoiding 'reducing the burden in school and increasing the burden outside school' to increase students' time for exercise, rest and recreation. Behind the 'double reduction' policy, the government advocates that we should focus on improving children's scores and cultivating children's comprehensive quality.
The policy frees children from what used to be one-dimensional in-class learning and gives them more time to participate in extracurricular programs like summer camps. In this context, theme-based camp education fits well with the competition and project-based learning needs of parents and children.
In the process of participating in a camp program, children will directly and authentically enter the actual scene, complete learning tasks, achieve set goals, receive certificates and reports on their research results, improve problem-solving skills and gain a sense of accomplishment, and prepare for their future academic and even professional careers. As the 'double reduction' policy is in place, cram schools can no longer organize subject-based training courses. Therefore, all kinds of interest classes, summer camps, camp education, study tours and research activities have become the most popular program for parents, so the national policy is an essential thrust of camp education.
Development Status of Chinese Camp Education
Firstly, Chinese camp education institutions are mainly located in East and North China. The main gathering places of institutions are the first-tier cities in North China, such as Beijing, Hangzhou and Shenzhen. The development of the camp education market is consistent with economic growth. Areas with rich educational resources and advanced parental education concepts are more receptive to camp education.
Secondly, most of the camp education institutions in China were established within the past 5 years, most of them have 1-2 camps, and more than 70% have existed for less than 5 years.
Thirdly, the age range of service users is extensive, focusing on youths aged 4-18, with the most significant number in the 9-13 age group.
During the track start-up period, rapid market expansion costs are the lowest. Compared with the mature market in the United States, outdoor sports and camp education in China is relatively early. According to the Chinese Ministry of Education, the number of primary and secondary school students in China reached 158 million in 2021. The current penetration rate of camp education in domestic first-tier and new first-tier cities is about 30%. The market scale of camp education will reach 100 billion in the next 5-10 years. The camp education industry is in the midst of explosive growth.
Comparison of Chinese and foreign camp education industry
The United States is the origin of camp education, with 12,000 camps and a participation penetration rate of 90%. According to the American Camp Association, there are about 12,000 camps in the United States, with residential camps at 7,000, and about 10 million children and teenagers and 1 million adults participate in camp education every year.
Russia has the most significant number of camps worldwide, with 55,000 bases, and 75% of students participate in camp education. Australia has 900 centers featuring strong links with schooling, government legislation that requires schools to organize a week of camp activities per student per year, and camp education is integrated into the national education system.
Japan has more than 3,500 camps, and more than 30 million elementary and middle school students participate in camp education activities yearly. In the U.S., about 19% of youths attend private summer camps each year, and in Japan, more than 90% of elementary and middle school students participate in school trips yearly.
There are about 1,500 camps in China, less than 10% of which are camp education institutions, and about 200,000 students participate in camp education every year. Compared with the international level, the number of camp education institutions in China still has much room for improvement.
Nowadays, camp education operators' severe and primary problem is the lack of camp leaders. For the camp education industry, the importance of a good camp leader cannot be emphasized more. An American camp expert said: ‘I can even run an excellent summer camp in a parking lot or on a concrete field with a good camp counselor.’
Lion, the person in charge of MMCOOL Camp (Chinese: 猫果营会), which is the camp business module, expanded from the innovative school MMCOOL (Chinese: 猫猫果儿), said that a qualified camp leader requires various competencies. In addition to a deep understanding of the educational philosophy of the camp, the camp leader needs to have project management skills, including curriculum design, marketing, team and customer management. Lion believes a successful camp director can bring nearly CNY 1.5 million for the team.
In the Chinese market, good camp leaders are a scarce resource. Unlike foreign countries where relevant government departments and schools train practitioners for camp education, the Chinese domestic camp education training system is lacking. In addition, for the camping organizations, there is a risk that the camp leaders they have trained with a lot of effort will be poached or left. The last camp leader that left MMCOOL once triggered a mad rush in the local summer camp market.
What worries the camp practitioners more is the 'Sword of Damascus' hanging above their heads.
‘Just like the English training market 20 years ago and the subject tutoring market 10 years ago in China, the Chinese camp education industry is facing the same problem: the regulatory gap. There is no clear authority, no organization like the ACA (American Camp Association), and no leading brand in the market.’ The founder of the famous camp education company Mind Education (Chinese:世纪明德), Wang Yong, said in an interview.
The supervisory gap not only adds a great deal of uncertainty to the camp education industry's future development but also to parents' concerns. One parent, who wished to remain anonymous, said that the market is flooded with summer camps, camp education, study tours and research tours under various names. She is therefore confused when selecting a summer program for her child. Due to the lack of regulation and ordinance, it is a confusing question whether the nature of these programs is considered training courses or tours.
In the future, Camp education products can be categorized according to different dimensions such as theme, age, nature of mobility, duration, mode, and special needs. With the development, the categories of camp education products will show a trend of subdivision to meet individual needs. Camp education is developing towards refinement, thematization and specialization.
In recent years, along with the national policies, camp education, as a 'school without walls' education form, integrates various types of quality education content to provide a more comprehensive educational environment for students. 80% of the new generation of parents value quality education and recognize the experiential learning style of camp education. China's 187 million primary and secondary school students population is seven times that of Russia and three times that of the United States. Therefore, although China's camp education industry started late, it has a broad future under the release of policy dividends.