As children in China look forward to their six-week summer holiday, parents are finding themselves suffering from higher levels of stress and financial strain than they do during the rest of the school year.
"No freedom summer holiday" became a trending topic on Weibo, China's Twitter, in May, as parents began spending much time and money planning their children's holiday schedule. It was a similar tale last year, when "Having 30,000 yuan monthly salary cannot afford the summer holiday" also went viral online.
Both trends reflect the anxiety and fear of parents that their children will lag behind other classmates during the summer break. To keep their offspring in study mode, parents try to fill the holiday with different classes and tours, at ever-increasing expense.
According to online media platform Sohu News, parents in cities such as Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing, are most willing to spend on their children's education during the break.
"I feel much more pressure during the summer holiday than on normal school days since I need to arrange different activities for them [her children]," said Chan Lee, a 40-year-old Guangzhou mother of two primary schoolchildren.
"A study tour costs 35,000 yuan and there are also classes and tutorials which are necessary to apply for," she said, explaining that, since schools did not assign much summer homework, she sent her children to holiday classes to better prepare them for the next academic year.
Sending children on overseas tours has also become an indispensable part of the break, with nearly everyone in Chan's children's class joining a summer study tour to experience an overseas educational environment, culture, and language through meeting people, visiting famous universities and sightseeing.
"You could feel that he had changed a lot after the tour. He was more organised and confident when communicating with others, as he knew more and had more things to share," she said.
Cheng Guowei, a representative of a study tour centre based in Shanghai, said parents were concerned about their children's education.
"Nearly 95 percent of our participants are students, most of them are primary and middle school kids. Yet this market is also very competitive, as there are many similar centres and institutions targeting the parents," he said.
Cheng said money was a big concern for parents, with most applying for more affordable destinations like Japan or Singapore, rather than European countries. His cheapest Asian tours cost about 10,000 yuan for six to seven days, with trips to English-speaking countries like the United States and Canada priced from 20,000, excluding air fares.
The study tours were not about academic knowledge but broadening horizons, Cheng said.
"To be honest, in just two weeks what kind of knowledge can they learn? But kids, of course, like study tours, which must be better than staying at home doing homework or attending classes," he said.
According to the Sohu News survey, when parents are not making travel plans for their children, they are applying for special interest classes and supplementary tutorials to fill in the spare hours of the summer holiday.
On Weibo, a post about "Fight over 7,000 yuan summer supplementary classes" became a hot trend and attracted more than 180 million comments in July, as parents rushed to secure places for their children in the most popular holiday classes.
Yin Jianli, a writer who specialises in family and education issues, said it was unnecessary to arrange activities for children during the summer holidays.
"Parents are not helping their children, they are just doing it to reduce their own anxiety," she said.
Many parents thought they could buy their children a better education, "but actually, a holiday should be a time for rest and play, not study", she said.