In January this year, Bethlehem College’s four-week volunteer project in Kenya turned to tragedy when a road accident killed three members of the group. The tragic circumstances were compounded with controversy after a member of the group eventually admitted to driving the vehicle instead of the group’s Kenyan driver, who was also killed. The incident left the school and wider community reeling.
Bethlehem College conducted a private investigation into the crash that concluded the school’s systems to guide overseas trips had not been strong enough. “So many lessons have been learned from this,” Board chairman Greg Hollister-Jones told the Bay of Plenty Times.
The lessons won’t be heeded by Bethlehem alone; with more and more New Zealand schools conducting overseas trips, many others will also be taking these lessons on board.
A quick trawl through school websites reveal that many are getting their students on aeroplanes and onto foreign turf on a fairly regular basis. Last year, Hillcrest High School offered a French language trip to Noumea and a Social Sciences trip to the Gold Coast. Hastings Boys High School has golf, rugby, and cricket tours planned for Australia this year. Every two years, a group of students from Diocesan visits its Sister School, Juntoku Girls’ High School in Tokyo, Japan for two weeks. Even primary and intermediate schools are venturing overseas – Murray’s Bay Intermediate takes 30 Year 8 students to Fukuoka, Japan each year.
Heather Gorrie, principal of Gisborne Girls’ High School, a school that also offers a variety of overseas experiences for their students, says it is an incredible challenge to ensure that each trip is compliant with ever toughening health and safety regulations.
Fortunately, the health and safety burden is not heavy enough to deter most schools. Despite the blow, Bethlehem College intends to continue with its overseas missions and is even planning to return to Kenya later this year.
Gorrie says that as Gisborne is the second most isolated city on Earth, offering opportunities for their students to see the wider world is critically important for broadening horizons.
Gisborne Girls’ High School’s overseas travel programme, which includes international languages trips to Europe, arts trip to Melbourne and health studies trip to Vanuatu on a two-yearly cycle, is based around curriculum extension for the participating subject areas. Other trips have also included Maori Language trips to Tahiti and a Heath trip Africa.
Historically, many overseas trips for schools were sports-focused – a first fifteen trip to Australia was a popular example of many high schools’ first foray into student trips abroad. However, the scope of school travel has come a long way, with many now venturing abroad for many different curriculum purposes.
“The range of curriculum areas where trips are offered also allows for students from all walks of life to participate. Due to our isolation and limited socio economic base many of our students have not travelled beyond New Zealand and for some they have not travelled far beyond Gisborne,” says Gorrie.
She says that in addition to health and safety elements, it is an incredible challenge to ensure that each trip is financially viable. Funding occurs through extensive fundraising over a two year period and is carefully linked to current curriculum assessment opportunities. A successful trip involves thousands of teacher hours, says Gorrie. “It is a test of marathon proportions in a community that has limited financial resources.”
There are now agents and services to assist schools with the fundraising and planning of school trips. Travel to Learn, for example, offers school trips, sports and educational tours, visits and programmes to a variety of destinations around the world. They can tailor the tours to support relevant student learning. Other schools partner with community organisations to help with costs.
However, despite the help of agencies, partnerships and the most creative and extensive fundraising activities, it is becoming increasingly difficult to raise the necessary money.
“We have noted that in toughening economic times it has become harder to ensure fundraising targets are met for these trips and our lead teachers have developed many novel ways of fundraising for both individual students and each travelling group as a collective. Equity of access for our students to overseas experiences is critically important,” says Gorrie.
The consideration of individual students is important, as schools don’t want students to miss out, however nor do they want to place undue pressure on families to find money that might not be there. It is a topic that needs to be handled sensitively.
PPTA president Angela Roberts recently told The Press that overseas jaunts “increased inequality, segregation, and competition” among schools, with under-pressure parents forking over large sums of cash.
“It is well known a decile 10 school is much more likely to go to Gallipoli or Rome than a decile one school,” she said.
However, while Gorrie acknowledges the difficulty of fundraising, she believes it is important that all students should have an opportunity to experience the world, regardless of their financial situation.
At Gisborne Girls, careful and considered planning goes in around each trip to ensure that students who may be economically disadvantaged still have the opportunity to fundraise. “We see many family and whānau get in behind these young women to ensure that targets are met,” says Gorrie, “The two year lead in time around these trips has become a necessity in our community to ensure that the money can be raised without placing undue stress on individual families. We also provide choice for families that can offer extra financial support for some students but there is a clear expectation that all students will participate together in group fundraising to support group bonding.”
Group bonding is an important part of it – not just for the trip itself, but for the preparation and follow-up. The excellent working relationships developed between students with their teachers and fellow students, as a result of working closely to fundraise, plan and coordinate in preparation for their trip, is a positive outcome many schools have noted.
The positive outcomes of venturing further afield are many and fortunately, in most cases, vastly outweigh the work and commitment involved, the challenges surrounding fundraising, and the very real health and safety concerns.
“We have seen significant benefit for our students who have travelled on these trips and for many they have been life changing experiences that have acted to lift personal and future goals, raise awareness and for all have promoted the desire for overseas travel later in life. Students who have engaged in these trips have seen real world applications for their learning and this has consistently resulted in increased levels of academic achievement,” says Gorrie.
According to The Press Angela Roberts says education outside the classroom is “absolutely valuable” but questions the need to fly schoolchildren all over the world. She believes offering overseas trips is used as “a great sales pitch for the school” in many cases.