Student Education Travel: Time To Redefine


Shonu Chandra
Director, EdTerra Edventures, New Delhi

Six-year-old Arundhati goes on a daylong school trip to Agra. The itinerary covers Taj Mahal, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World and the old capital city of the Mughals, the Red Fort. The school group returns satisfied, the parents are happy, the children excited and the photos of the group are already on the Facebook! Efficiently and nicely done trip.

Let us look at this event from the perspective of opportunity cost. A student on an average undertakes between 4-6 school trips in his/her entire school life. Thus, each occasion of student education travel is an invaluable opportunity to enable young minds interact and learn from places, people, cultures, and ideas in a way that it complements and builds on in-class learning.

Surely, Arundhati is not revisiting Agra as a student. She has officially seen the Taj Mahal, the only modern wonder that India holds, but, does she truly understand why this magnificent structure deserves this distinction? Does she have any clue as to how this grand architectural marvel found shape through trans-continental collaboration of the finest architects and craft persons, or how its materials were ferried from different corners of the globe, or the fact that even today the colossal structure stands firm on the most infirm of grounds, a sandy river bed? Unfortunately, Arundhati cannot process any of these facts at the age of six; the journey was chosen by the school because it was a day long journey that six-year-olds could physically and emotionally undertake. Agra just happened to fall in the desired physical proximity of the school. Butdid we not innocently rob Arundhati a chance that may have allowed her to truly appreciating her heritage?

The above example is not to whine or to say that we can partner with schools and assist them in planning student education travel programmes that are age-appropriate and complement school curriculum. Here, the idea is to pose a set of basic fundamental questions which require our immediate collective attention and intervention. While our education system attracts strict scrutiny from all quarters, then why student education travel has no standards or governing body? Even if we leave education standards aside, why do safety standards too elude this domain? Why is no value attributed to the opportunity cost of the outside the classroom learning event?

The answers to these questions are both simple and complex. The resulting debate will eventually yield implementable solutions, but we all need to actively pursue this dialogue. For me personally, the point where children, education and travel meet, is very exciting. These basic questions had not stared at me as my seven years of existence in the sector has been enriching and allowed me to develop and implement methodologies and principles that have yielded promising results. It has also educated us to start asking these fundamental questions, because in their answers lay the future of student education travel. The idea of this article is to share our learning and enable more institutions and individuals to help make education travel more meaningful for our children.

Meaningful student travel complements education and completes it. The classroom provides the conceptual framework of broad concepts but travel enables the students to experience the real world application of the same. A good travel ‘Designer’ invests heavily into integrating classroom objectives into the broader spectrum of life, through journey design. In this, student travel organisation must have a dedicated team of programme developers who try to convert each tourist location into a learning destination for the students.

Travel brings alive the curricula.
It gives a school an edge when a student can feel, touch and experience what the teachers explain within the confines of a classroom. Travel has no boundaries unlike the classroom. History is brought alive at QutabMinar as the students see the physical reality left behind by the Mamluk Dynasty, and recreate history through creative theatre. Geometry acquires wider, more practical dimensions as they study the dome and the minaret, Laws of Physics become clearer when they explore why the minaret still stands tall in a high seismic zone, and Geography assumes ground reality as students understand the morphology of the Aravali rangeand how it creates a basin that both supported and protected the dynasty.

Opportunities and challenges.
The question is, why are these simple ideas not even attempted by many to bring alive student travel? Surely it is not the lack of creativity or vision; the reality is that a single location like Qutab Minar assumes a herculean quantum of physical work the moment it is mapped against the curriculum and age groups; a task that will be a challenging undertaking for any education or travel company. And even if any company accomplishes this task, will their efforts find commercial reward? Well, that is doubtful. The mindset of most schools forces them to only consider the price of the journey and not the learning offered or the cost at which it was created.

In this respect, we continue to invest in the area of programme development for we believe that discerning schools will pay the little extra for they understand the value we deliver through our journeys. This belief has allowed us to develop the largest portfolio of educational programmes.

Delivering Truly Educational Travel.
Each education travel design must reflect a highly demonstrable educational value that can be felt, touched and measured, and is achieved through a four-step process. First, define the cognitive and affective learning objectives for each journey and align them with 21st century skills. Next, develop and design a variety of team-based activities and projects, supported by highly engaging educational collaterals in the form of illustrated story books, discovery sheets, work books, multi-media workshops, etc. Thirdly, to measure student learning, use self and peer-based evaluation methodologies. Finally, the students capture the fun and learning of their journey through a highly demonstrable media output that allows them to share their experiences with their peers and family. This last part serves as evidence of learning and is an area of critical interest to us. The four steps would appear logical but what some may miss is that each of the steps also needs to be audited from the perspective of emotional and physical safety of the students. Today, the meaning of safety in student education travel is limited to the idea of a first-aid kit and on-call doctor. Moreover, student safety is an ingrained element in every process and practice and extends to the entire eco-system covering the network of on-ground partners and associates.

Student education travel is like the calm duck that seems to float effortlessly; no one sees the furious pedalling underneath. Education in any form cannot be treated lightly. We are dealing with live minds and they are dynamic, volatile and eager to absorb, and are highly impressionable. It is commendable how schools continue to make the classroom experience more engaging from the perspective of students’ creativity and intelligence. However, I feel that the value of travel as an educational tool is yet to be fully appreciated and integrated into the curriculum.

Travel is not merely an agenda in the school calendar but it is a valuable tool which can be used to make a significant difference in the way education is delivered. The fast emerging industry of student education travel must become aware of the gravity of the responsibility of making travel a meaningful activity which benefits the students, complements school learning and prepares them for a journey called life.

A good student education company has to have a strong back-end team comprising educationists, strategists, child psychologists, media personnel, who understand curricula and pedagogy and can integrate them seamlessly into their programmes. The programmes need to address cognitive as well as affective learning needs, inform as well as develop critical thinking, analysis, collaboration, peer learning, sensitisation, and have a long-term impact. Certainly not an easy task! We must stand committed to this space and open to learning and partnering with like-minded individuals and educational institutions interested in redefining student education travel.

Shonu Chandra
Shonu Chandra

Shonu Chandra is an experimental educationist, philanthropic media person and a motivated and focused traveler. After his PGD – Children, Youth & Development (ISS, The Hague), he worked closely with various companies, broadcast channels, NGOs with children from marginalised communities across India and now, EdTerra. He has also designed, trained, supervised and evaluated Child-Led Media Projects in Africa and Asia apart from his association with the Education Department of Brown University for ArtsLits programme. His perceptively made films, helped the children articulate, and sensitised the world to their plight. His films won many awards including the ‘One World Media Special Achievement Award – 2003’. Incidentally, he is the second Asian to be conferred this prestigious award. He is a ‘continuous learner’ and endorses the credence that children have the wisdom of the ancient sages and are his best teachers. He wants the children of today also to see life in all its universality and totality and since the world is interconnected and has to be collaborated, the children must travel and overcome cultural boundaries.