Be it training underwater like an astronaut or debating with the élan of a UN diplomat, learning the German language in Switzerland, or operating a rover on simulated Mars terrain, there is arguably no professional experience that is out of reach for school students today. Gone are the days of the humble school picnic as specialized tours become an integral part of the academic calendar, and schools compete to provide unique learning experiences that both educate and inspire students to cultivate their passions.
“Our tours offer an opportunity for students and schools to actually see the practical use of the concepts they study in their classrooms,” says Vishal Verma, Managing Director of Frontiers Edutainment, an innovative education tours company with offices in Gurgaon and Chennai.
As the name suggests, Frontiers strives to bring in an element of enjoyment to enhance student engagement on trips. They offer a plethora of travel programmes catering to specific interests and skills-development of students. For instance, those interested in journalism can attend the prestigious Newsroom by the Bay programme at Stanford University, while science enthusiasts can visit centres of excellence such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the United States and the Space Academy of Singapore. Students can also participate in a range of festivals and competitions such as the London International Youth Science Forum, the Hugh O’Brian World Leadership Congress and Model United Nations conferences around the world.
“We focus on making Students realize the immense possibilities available to them and this helps them gain a much broader perspective,” adds Verma.
Frontiers Edutainment organizes an average of 10 to 12 tours every year, with between 400 and 500 students participating from schools in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Dehradun, and Bangalore.
The company takes care of every little detail, right from organizing visas to air tickets, hotels, meals, and local transportation. The aim is to provide students with a seamless experience where they can bond with fellow students and cultivate team skills, develop confidence in their own abilities, and explore their talents.
According to Verma, most schools choose to attend educational programmes at NASA Space Centres or academic tournaments like the World Scholar’s Cup and Model United Nations Conferences.
At times, it is the parents who approach Frontiers with interest in sending their children on specific tours. The company then contacts the child’s school and the tour becomes possible if a sizeable number of students register. All arrangements and itineraries are finalized several months in advance, and students are encouraged to prepare for the trip by reading up about the place they are due to visit.
A tour director from Frontiers Edutainment leads the tour and manages all communication and organization. Rigorous safety checks are performed before finalizing the programme and tour directors are well-trained in handling all aspects of student safety.
“Our programmes offer a rich learning experience for students and we pay a lot of attention to detail. The safety and security of the students are paramount for us,” emphasizes Verma, who quit a 14 year corporate career to establish Frontiers in 2010. Since then, he has been honoured by Space Centre Houston for his contribution to the Space School programme and has been appointed an Ambassador for the Camp KSC programme by Kennedy Space Centre Visitor Complex.
Moreover, the company has established partnerships with leading global organizations including Space Centre Houston, US Space and Rocket Centre, Kennedy Space Centre, Best Delegate, and the Albert Schweitzer Leadership for Life foundation.
Apart from the specialized experiential learning tours offered by Frontiers Edutainment and select other companies, more conventional adventures are also highly sought after.
Meenakshi Kumar Prabhakar, Marketing Director at Shikhar Educational Tours shares, “Destinations in the Himalayas are very popular and a large number of our student groups go trekking there. We also include aspects of ecology preservation by including a mountain cleaning drive for the students.”
Established as Shikhar Travels in 1979, this Delhi-based tour operator handles over 1000 tours and 8000 students on average every year. Apart from a variety of trekking and camping trips, the company offers historical and cultural tours to places such as Himachal, Garwhal, Sikkim, Ladhak, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Goa.
“When students travel with us they are not just passive speculators but active participants,” says Meenakshi. “For example, when our group visited Jaipur, they spent half a day with the local craftsmen learning traditional crafts and techniques directly from them rather than from a facilitator.”
She further emphasizes that the aim of educational trips is to develop leadership and teamwork, build self-confidence, and facilitate young people to re-evaluate some of their beliefs, attitudes and assumptions, particularly around different cultures and their own priorities in life.
“For instance, we encourage schools to send students for village tours where students can witness village life, spend a day in the field with farmers, enjoy the village transportation, visit the village school and learn different aspects of Indian rural life,” says Meenakshi.
Shikhar Educational Tours also works closely with schools to customize trips and cater to specific academic fields such as media studies, engineering, ecology conservation, performing arts, etc. Moreover, they offer a range of special-interest tours such as a Tea Tour of Assam, Darjeeling and Dooars and a Cave Tour of Meghalaya.
The company has worked with over 50 schools across North India and also a handful of schools from the Untied States and Singapore. For international students, Shikhar offers 2-5 week tailor-made excursions to India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives. These programmes are aimed at helping students develop new skills and friendships while increasing their understanding of international issues and foreign cultures.
Commenting on the value of educational travel, Rashmi Lalwani, counsellor at Ahmedabad-based Udgam School says that educational tours foster long-term learning. “When we were at school, it was all about bookish knowledge and it’s high time we move beyond that,” she says. “Students today get the opportunity to experience heritage and culture firsthand, which really complements their classroom learning.”
Despite such benefits, however, specialized tours are criticized for further commercializing education. Several comments on news websites denigrate popular educational programs at NASA as mere “money-making rackets”, while a large number of parents subscribe to the “we never had such tours and we did just fine” attitude.
Perhaps such a view also explains why many schools still prefer organizing their own trips as opposed to paying for professionally-managed ones. Udgam School is one among many which organizes its own trips within the state of Gujarat to familiarize students with places of historical and cultural value. For instance, Udgam students most recently visited the Sun Temple at Modhera to learn about architecture and the Solanki dynasty. Day trips and low-budget adventures to nearby national parks, monuments, or forests can prove to be as valuable as the more expensive tours.
Further, activity camps are also an ever popular form of educational retreat. Here, students can participate in a wide range of skill-building tasks, from rappelling and rock-climbing to yoga and pottery. They also participate in various sports and bonding exercises such as nature walks and storytelling around a bonfire.
With a limitless variety of destinations and experiences on offer, educational tours are changing the way students learn and grow today. Be it interacting with astronauts at NASA, watching the latest sports car being assembled in Germany, trekking through the exquisite Himalayan Valley of Flowers, or simply camping amid the sound of animals in Gir forest, travel is a transformative experience that can supercharge young people’s calibre to handle their future adult lives, both professional and personal.
The author is a freelance writer and avid blogger based in Ahmedabad. She has worked briefly in education and aspires to write for and about young adults. Get to know her better at https://mehaksiddiqui.wordpress.com/.