Beyond Academics: 96% of Parents Prioritize "Real Life" Experience for K-12 Students This Year According to New Survey by EF Educational Tours

Despite math and reading losses, parents indicate their students missed out on other essential skills during Covid

2nd November 2022

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Nov. 2, 2022 -- EF Educational Tours (EF Tours), a world leader in international education, which offers hands-on travel-based learning opportunities for middle school and high school students, today released the results of a new survey conducted online by The Harris Poll among more than 900 parents of children in grades K-12 (referred to as parents throughout) in mid-September.

In line with national discourse, according to the new EF Tours survey, nearly all parents (98%) agree that critical academic skills (e.g., math, reading, writing) are important for their children to learn in the 2022 – 2023 school year.

Interestingly, as NAEP testing revealed a nationwide decline in core math and reading skills, according to the EF Tours survey, parents are placing importance on the acquisition of "soft skills" like grit, perseverance, and critical thinking that aren't easily measured on standardized testing but deemed missed during Covid and essential by parents for a child's future preparedness.

  • Like critical academic skills (98%), the vast majority of parents believe essential soft skills catalytic to future-preparedness are important for their children to learn this 2022-2023 school year. These include social-emotional well-being skills such as grit and perseverance (96%), self-leadership skills (97%), interpersonal skills and real-life experience (96% each), and mental flexibility (96%).

  • Four out of five parents (80%) believe problem-solving skills are critical to acquire in K-12 education to ensure future readiness (college and/or work force success). Parents feel similarly about the acquisition of cognitive skills such as critical thinking (78%), self-leadership skills (76%), and social and emotional intelligence skills such as perseverance (75%).

Also compelling is that after two years of pandemic-led school life and desires to return to "normal" in-person classroom learning, parents are now prioritizing real-life, out-of-the-classroom, immersion learning opportunities as the best way for kids to acquire these essential softer skills.

  • The vast majority (90%) of parents believe that the career-ready skills that employers seek as critical for success are best acquired through real-life, immersion learning opportunities and/or education-based travel. The same proportion (90%) feel their children missed out on these same opportunities due to Covid-19 related circumstances over the past two years.

  • Parents support real-life immersion learning opportunities and/or education-based travel as worthwhile for teachers and students alike.

○ For students, parents believe the benefits that make these experiences worthwhile include getting out of the classroom in ways that challenge the senses, introduce new ways of learning, reinvigorate students' motivations to learn, and opportunities to acquire innovative hands-on skills (71% each).

○ Specific to teachers, 65% of parents believe these experiences are worthwhile because they provide a professional development opportunity to learn and experience innovative, hands-on teaching skills that participants can bring back to the classroom.

"Educators have been telling us for decades about the power of getting students out of the classroom and out of their comfort zones to learn new things through experiences, and ultimately develop new skills that books alone simply cannot teach," said Alexander Huber, President, EF Educational Tours. "This survey confirms that parents see the same value in immersive, real-world experiences as they do in learning traditional academic skills. From global dexterity to critical thinking, these skills are crucial to long-term college and career success. Whether in your own community or halfway around the world, an out-of-classroom experience that complements in-classroom learning, can help an entire generation of students grow in meaningful new ways."

Parents value a wide variety of skills and experiences – from learning to make a basic household budget (71%) by the time students graduate, to the importance of experiencing class trips (92%) and having impactful relationships with teachers or adults who aren't family (94%) this school year – as ways to grow intellectually and develop the "real world" skills that contribute to future success. All parents, regardless of their child's current grade level felt similarly.

"The pandemic had a profound impact on how parents view their child's education. The survey results show that regardless of region, income or gender, parents value real-world, hands-on and immersive learning experiences in addition to traditional academics. Parents recognize how critical these skills are for their child's future success," said Erica Parker, Managing Director of the Harris Poll.

Additional key findings for what parents want for their students for the 2022 – 23 school year include:

  • More than four in five parents (82%) believe that their children missed out on more than just academics during the 2020 and 2021 school years due to Covid-related circumstances.
  • A majority of parents (77%) say they would put off other expenses for their children to participate in real-life immersion learning opportunities.
  • Four out of five parents (80%) say they can clearly remember a similar experience in their adolescence that inspired their future such as interests or an invaluable life skill.

The survey results are vast and include specific insight into how parents define "life skills" and what they want their children to experience at school. This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of EF Educational Tours from September 7 – 13, 2022, among 932 parents of children in grades K – 12. The sampling precision of Harris online polls is measured by using a Bayesian credible interval. For this study, the sample data is accurate to within +/- 3.8 percentage using a 95 percent confidence level. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes please contact Greer Bautz on behalf of EF at [email protected].

About EF Educational Tours

EF Educational Tours is a leading partner of teachers and families nationwide, helping students engage with new cultures, languages, and experiences via international educational travel opportunities. EF Tours' compelling itineraries expand students' perspectives and prepare them for success in an ever -evolving world. The product is part of the EF Education First family of companies. EF provides culturally immersive education through language, travel, cultural exchange, and academic programs in over 100 countries. With a mission to open the world through education, EF was founded in 1965.

About The Harris Poll

The Harris Poll is one of the longest-running surveys in the U.S., tracking public opinion, motivations and social sentiment since 1963. It is now part of Harris Insights & Analytics, a global consulting and market research firm that delivers social intelligence for transformational times. We work with clients in three primary areas: building 21st century corporate reputation, crafting brand strategy and performance tracking, and earning organic media through public relations research. Our mission is to provide insights and advisory to help leaders make the best decisions possible. Learn more by visiting and follow Harris Poll on Twitter and LinkedIn.