The truth about summer camps in Bahrain is that it is just another way of monetising the facilities and space of schools and clubs when they are at a low ebb during the seasonal holidays.
Even hotels join the fray and announce children’s classes in art, craft and physical activity such as swimming, using their built-in facilities.
Unlike the rules governing the standard educational institutions which are subject to rigorous inspection by the Education Ministry for facilities, curriculum and staff qualifications, summer camps seem to have flown under the radar when managed by clubs and hotels and even by individuals.
I think schools still have to get the all-clear for activities in their campuses but other places simply announce summer schools without any expert inputs – and parents looking for babysitting during their work hours, tend to take the bait.
At a centrally-located community club, I remember visiting to take a few photographs for a publication and I was shocked at the way the summer camp was managed. To begin with, there were way more children than manageable.
You see, the summer camps are set up and run as temporary arrangements so nobody makes a promise of individualised attention or teacher-to-child ratio. In many of the social organisations, members come together to run the show and although they have plenty of good intentions, expertise is woefully inadequate.
Since the outdoors is quite hot, we have indoor summer camps and, in most places, hygiene is a definite concern.
Refreshment breaks involve sugary drinks, chips and mass-produced cupcakes because these are the least expensive – the overall planning certainly emphasises the maximum profit for the organisers.
The curriculum advertised is usually designed to make the children sit in one place – art and craft, some music and dance and, these days, yoga is introduced as ‘physical activity’. Towards the end of the summer camp, groups of children are hurriedly taught some Bollywood dances and a show is put up to make parents feel their money has been well-spent.
If you ask me, the people to be blamed squarely for this state of affairs are the parents. Most parents see the summer camp as a supervised space to leave their children in when they are at work and not as two months of learning time for their children.
And, this is going to make me unpopular with many readers but the fact is, parents also want the package at minimum cost which means they don’t want to pay top dinar for trained instructors or healthy snacks.
One parent even told me he paid just BD25 a month for ‘regular school’ which took care of his children from 6.45am, when they caught the school bus, till they returned at about 2pm, so why should he pay the same for three hours of care?
Eight weeks is a long time in a young life and so much can be learnt and achieved during this time.
Authorities too must scrutinise the way such camps are run – what they teach, the qualifications of the instructors and the overall conditions: is it over-crowded, is there a doctor or nurse on call for emergencies, is there even a first-aid kit, what is the student to instructor ratio ...
You get what you demand – and it’s high time we demanded excellence for our children’s summer camps.