While Disney has had a theme park in Hong Kong for years, the Western media giant is now offering something that the Chinese may find irresistable: A good education. Children as young as two years old are streaming into Disney's relatively new English language schools across China. While costing $1,800 a year in tuition, Disney's courses have been successful and effective, and the company plans to expand from its current ten locations in Shanghai and five in Beijing to surrounding cities.
Within the next year Disney hopes to double the current number of schools. There is certainly no shortage of customers – those schools that have been established longer already have waiting lists. In fact, about 20% of China's population is under 14 years of age, equaling more than 265 million children that could be lured into Disney's schools. While the prospects for future students are bright, there has been some trouble appropriately training and staffing new centers.
Every classroom has two instructors: a local and a native English speaking Westerner. Interactive video displays line the walls of the room, with the virtual familiar faces of ducks and mice scampering about from monitor to monitor. Mnemonic assistance is provided by a repertoire of over 300 songs, with about 60 textbooks augmenting the experience. (All of the materials have made it past China's cautious censors.)
While the initial investment in setting up these schools must have been large, the rewards could be tremendous. Beyond the sheer number of children in China, their parents (whose hopes often rest upon a single child) consider education extremely important. English itself is viewed as a pass to the wider world; an essential asset in today's globalized economy. For Disney, education is also a sound way to enter the Chinese market, as piracy usually dissuades Western media companies from making money in China. However, it is much more difficult to fake a strong education. Disney itself has banked on this, and has commissioned its own studies showing 12% annual growth in the market for English-language education in China, reaching $3.7 billion by the year 2012. (The research and marketing firm OLP Global considers this a modest estimate, and claims the market is already at $6 billion and growing by 20% annually.)
With so many potential students and Chinese parents' attitudes towards education, any company that can help Chinese children learn stands to be immensely rewarded. For a company like Disney, there is obviously a side bonus which should not be discounted. Young Chinese people who have been raised on images of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck will probably insist on being taken to a theme park one day. With a theme park having opened in Hong Kong in 2005, Disney is currently paving the way to take further advantage of the giant Chinese market. A new Disneyland resort has been approved for the Pudong district of Shanghai, and is scheduled to open in 2014. Mickey and friends are clearly prudent, and there for the long-term investment.