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Disney teaching English in China

I linked to a Reuters story on the practice last month, but now the Economist has come out with their own story on Disney’s latest move in China. The English-language schools run by Disney are seen by the families that enroll their children as a path to a better-life. That may be true, but what is Disney’s real motivation for opening the schools?

The initial development costs, which Disney has not disclosed, must have been huge. Within a decade the programme will have a material impact on Disney’s results, predicts Andrew Sugerman, who runs it. Disney hopes to keep doubling the number of Chinese students it teaches every year for a while. This is a risky venture—long-term, complex and in an area China considers sensitive: education. Yet the potential rewards are huge.

It’s probably not what you’re thinking, however. I’m struck by some of Michael Eisner and Bob Iger’s comments around the opening of Hong Kong Disneyland. That Disney was in China for the long term and that they would have to appeal to Chinese sensitivities to really grow their foothold. Well, the Chinese really value education. For Disney to show that is an emphasis of their own, draws the company closer to a long term place in the culture.

It’s just an added bonus that these children who learn to speak English with the help of Disney characters may some day want to visit one of Disney’s theme parks with their family.