The Walt Disney Co have ventured into the world of TEFL and set up schools in Shanghai, aimed at teaching kids to speak English. Disney is adamant that the initiative is for the purpose of teaching children much needed language skills and not a stunt to expand within the most populous country on the planet. That certainly doesn’t stop them missing a trick when it comes to brand awareness in a country whose government, outside the teaching program, restricts the company in the films and merchandise it distributes.
With statues of Mickey Mouse in corridors, rooms kitted out like Andy’s bedroom from Toy Story for kids to learn in, and Disney text books and stationary used that is otherwise unavailable in China, many see it as a disguised marketing push into a country that has been holding them back and restricting its trade. Kids get “magic tokens” for things like singing, these can then be exchanged for “reward gifts” like hats, bags, flash cards and CD’s that are all on display in the lobby.
Andy Mooney, chairman of Consumer Products worldwide says “We never saw this as an effort to teach the Disney brand and Disney characters” and insists “We set out to teach Chinese kids English”. Many hold more cynical views and see it as a way to get to the children of the middle class in China, with school places costing $1000 a year for a couple of days a week.
With an estimated 300 million people learning English in China, TEFL is big business and Disney is getting in on the act. With proposed expansion and more new schools in Shanghai and Beijing , and all of this coinciding with having asked the Chinese government permission to build a $3.59 billion Shanghai Disneyland, the company are slowly making their mark.
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