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Specialised camps are raising the bar for junior programmes

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • The junior segment has proven to be an important source of growth in a global ELT market that has been essentially flat in recent years
  • Increasing competition for junior bookings is now helping to usher in a new field of more specialised programmes that offer new experiences, opportunities, and partnerships targeted to younger learners

The junior segment is big business for leading ELT (English-language training) destinations and an increasingly important growth segment in a global market where overall year-over-year gains are now in the low single digits.

In the UK, for example, junior language learners (18 years old or younger) now outnumber adults. And in Malta, juniors accounted for half of ELT commencements in 2016, while Ireland’s increase in junior bookings helped to push industry growth into the double digits last year.

Aside from its burgeoning demand, the junior segment has a couple of notable characteristics. First and foremost, juniors tend to stay for shorter periods, and enrolments tend to be heavily concentrated in short-term camp programmes during summer or winter breaks from school.

Second, young students’ decision to study a language overseas is often motivated by their desire to have unique cultural experiences or by a longer-term goal of studying abroad at the tertiary level.

And – perhaps most importantly for the future development of this key segment – increasing competition for junior bookings is helping to usher in a new field of more specialised programmes that offer new experiences, opportunities, and partnerships targeted to younger learners.

Better together

UK-based ELT provider The Language Gallery (TLG) is one example of a school that is building its junior programmes around key working relationships. Four years ago, TLG established a broad partnership with a professional football club. The club competes in the Premier League, the top tier of English football, and has the distinction of being one of the most highly valued football clubs in the world.

The resulting Residential Camps are the flagship programmes of TLG’s partnership. They combine English-language instruction with sports leadership and intensive football training with club coaching staff. The camps are connected with the club’s official player development academy
as well, and participants join in skills challenges and player development sessions in that famed training ground.

“The key to any such partnership is to keep the focus on education but then adding in value with something that the students are passionate about,” says Ross Metherell, TLG’s director of sports and corporate programmes. “Then when they go into the classroom they are extremely motivated.”

Broad collaborations such as this also open up new avenues for recruitment. “We recruit via key agents,” adds Mr Metherell, “but also through football organisations.” Space is limited in the residential camps and they are often fully booked. As of this writing, the 2017 schedule was completely sold out.

TLG’s newest junior programme partnership sees it moving off the football pitch and into the dance studio for a collaboration with London’s Pineapple Dance Studio. TLG and Pineapple will offer a new residential camp for the first time in 2017 that combines English instruction with dance. “We look for partnerships that allow us to offer something unique, something special,” says Mr Metherell, “but without going too niche.”

Building new skills

International House Dublin has expanded its junior residential programmes in recent years as well. Since 2012, IH Dublin has offered homestay and residential camps at University College Cork, just a few hours’ drive from Dublin.

Targeted to juniors between 9 and 16 years of age, the camps combine intensive English instruction with cultural activities and digital media training. The digital arts projects in Cork range from movie and animation production to podcasting to coding for video games and web publishing.

Meanwhile in the US, iD Tech Camps hosts roughly 50,000 students a year at programmes on college and university campuses throughout the country. This leading provider welcomes international students from dozens of countries every year, but all programmes are given in English and students are expected to function at a basic level of English without integrated language instruction. Campers attend for one or more weeks, and follow programmes in app development, game design, robotics, web design, film and video production, 3D modelling, coding, and engineering.

“The way students learn is changing,” says iD Tech CEO Pete Ingram-Cauchi. “We have to offer them the opportunity to experience subjects applicable to future careers, while providing tools to problem solve, create, work in teams, and use critical thinking skills.”

Earlier this year, iD Tech began an international expansion programme that will see it offering new offshore programmes in collaboration with the GEMS Nations Academy in Dubai and the University of Hong Kong in Hong Kong. “These new locations are just the first step in our international opportunities,” adds Mr Ingram-Cauchi. “We plan to grow our programme overseas to deliver our unique blend of essential STEM education and summer fun to additional campuses across the Middle East and Asia.”

Pathways to higher education

Academic preparation is another major stream in junior programmes, and there are many examples to be found of well-established summer programmes that help students prepare for university admission and sample university campuses and coursework. ILAC, a leading ELT provider in Canada, is ramping up its programmes in this area to keep pace with growing demand. In the process, it is stepping outside the boundaries of a traditional summer camp model.

“We used to operate junior programmes only in summer and winter,” says marketing director Jimmy Battaglia, “but now we see high demand for underage students throughout the year.” In response, ILAC is introducing a new academic pathway programme in 2017 targeted to 16–18-year-olds. Students can join the programme throughout the year with individual counselling, campus visits, and placement services included. “In June, July, and August, we also offer English classes combined with college-level seminars,” adds Mr Battaglia.

Whether taking a university class, building a new mobile app, or perfecting their skills in the studio or on the pitch, younger language learners have many choices for value-added summer programmes that correspond to just about any interest. As competition continues to increase in the junior segment, we can expect further specialisation and innovation in camp programmes going forward.

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