This September will mark the third academic year where school calendars are being planned around the uncertainties of Covid-19. My team and I work as partners, primarily with schools, delivering experiential education, or school trips in China. Being in this ecosphere, I’ve seen schools go from closure, to virtual, to staggered returns, to social distancing, then back to class as usual, then going back to virtual, then going back to class as usual.
Many schools in the 2019-2020 school year were unable to run LOTC, week without walls, residentials, excursions, field trips in China (and the world for that matter) etc… In China, we have been luckier than most. In the 2020-2021 school year we saw schools saying that they were ready to have normalcy back. But it wasn’t just school trips as usual. To be honest, I’d never seen so much enthusiasm for excursions from both teachers and students.
It was touching – we were being told, after a long hiatus, just how integral experiential education is to school and its impact on student life.
I’ve had countless conversations with heads of pastoral care, head of extracurricular activities, activities coordinators, heads of outdoor ed, athletic directors, principals, and school directors where they’ve stressed to me that the kids, this time around, need this.
Currently in China, term start dates have been pushed back as the government does its best to contain the latest outbreaks prior to the start of the school year. So how are schools planning for school trips during covid? Especially this time around when we’re into the third academic year of planning residentials during Covid-19.
Last year, we published an article called health and safety in the time of covid where we discussed what we were doing on trips to ensure safety. To be honest, all that has become standard and second nature to us now especially after running almost 100 school trips since that point. Where were schools going? Well, most of them took our advice about running residentials closer to home (best school trips close to major cities in China).
The below are six tips that, I hope, can assist school decision makers with planning a school trip in China during Covid-19. Let’s face it, it’s going to be here for a few more years… so we might as well adapt.
- Public Transportation exposes students to more risk. Private coach journeys ensure that your students aren’t encountering members of the public. Our bus drivers have their green codes and disinfect the buses daily – plus nobody else besides students and members of staff come onto the buses.
- Overnight programs can sometimes prove to be problematic when communicating about school trips in China to parents. Though we ensure that all accommodations are properly disinfected and comply with government regulations, the ‘relaying the message to the parents part’ is sometimes more trouble than it’s worth. In this case, you need a destination that is within 2 hours of school that students can just bus in and bus out of every day. It’s certainly not the most ideal situation but it is an option that gets your students out of the classroom and getting their outdoors hours in. To be clear, we believe that overnight programs are holistically better, and no less safe, than day trips.
- Most service providers can guarantee staff that have been covid tested within the past 48 hours prior to working with your students or are vaccinated. Make sure that they’re clear on your school’s requirements.
- You want to look for organizations who not only measure up to your H&S and educational standards, but who can also be flexible with their booking and cancellation policies. This is my opinion as someone from the inside looking out: Having been partnered with certain schools for decades it is important for us, internally, to do well with planning our cashflows so that neither parents, nor schools, are adversely affected – or punished – for at least trying to deliver the crucial outcomes that result from experiential education. We offer full refunds as necessary, though I do want to say a big thank you to the schools who have allowed us to keep a portion of funds as credits towards their next programs.
- It might be obvious to most of us, but it is still worthwhile to mention that remote locations have less people and thus pose a lesser risk of students being exposed to Covid than when they are in the city. Especially if we’re taking your students on a wilderness survival expedition or a wellbeing retreat – there simply just are not very many people around.
- The final thing to keep in mind are the China covid policies for school trips. The board of education for each school district will have different regulations based on the outbreak situation/level of the local area. For example, while schools from one district in Beijing could run trips, a district 40 minutes away were asked to postpone their programs to a few weeks later. From province to province, it varies even more dramatically – students in Xian didn’t have a mask requirement at one point when Beijing schools were still online!
… remote locations have less people…
It’s always risk vs. reward. We must balance the benefits of outdoor education against the risks. Just as being infected with covid-19 is a public health crisis – the collateral damage from students being unable to experience holistic education is far from insignificant. UNICEF recently released a report detailing the anxiety and depression that youth and teenagers felt due to covid. The average reported quality of mental health in youth declined by 200 percent by some metrics. Loneliness, hopelessness, and the disruption of their routines were some of the reasons attributed to this decline. A school trip might not cure clinical depression, but from my years of experience I daresay it helps to combat loneliness and inject a zest for life into our youth.
Safety comes first, but there are so many matrices to weigh and compare. After running virtual classes in varying degrees for the past year and a half, I’m more confident than I have ever been in my conviction that: outdoor education, school trips, service learning, and these experiences outside of the classroom that we dedicate ourselves to curating are extraordinarily vital. Week without walls, outdoor ed, field research, camps etc… they all provide a unique space that straddles life and school, putting both students and teachers on a shared adventure together.
Yes, international borders are currently still not open. But students don’t need to go to South Africa or New York City to gain a world class school trip experience. I look forward to sharing WildChina’s next article about the most fascinating conservation focused field research trips for students in China.