“Young people, particularly our girls, need to understand that doctors and scientists are something that anyone can become, no matter how much money your family has, where you come from, or whether you are a man or a woman – and that message is more important than ever in today’s world.”1 Brilliant! True! Easier said than done, Michelle.
I could listen to Mrs. Obama for a living. What she says is intelligent, founded in reality, often challenging, aspirational, it comes from the heart, is common sense, and more often than not something it would be difficult not to agree with. However, as we know, it’s walking the talk that matters … “Children can only aspire to what they know exists.”2
KidZania, where children aged 4 to 14 can experience the world of work through role-play, is designed to inspire and empower: “from inspiration to aspiration”3. Since its inception in 1999 in Mexico City, KidZania now has a presence in 24 cities on 5 continents with plans for further developments in some 20 locations including the USA and South Africa.
KidZania London is the United Kingdom’s first such educational entertainment centre, with more than 60 real-life professions children can explore as part of our approach to ‘futures awareness’. Key in the KidZania experience is that grown-ups are there to be seen and not heard, i.e. these are cities built for kids! KidZania London can also proudly say that a significant number of school visits are by children whose socio-economic contexts are more challenging than most – our pricing and CSR reflect our values. We have a Think-Tank which sits at the heart of everything educational – UK’s top educationalists, guiding our development, not just in the UK, but globally.
Over the last twelve months, KidZania has, in partnership with Havas and Bett, used correlation analysis to identify the influence of children’s contexts over their choices of activities. The purpose was to identify differences in behaviours focussing on 330,000 children aged 4 to 14, with the aim to help shape evidence-based educational improvement. We analysed data from school visits to KidZanias in the UK and Mexico and combined this with local and government statistics regarding affluence, education, health and social conditions.
The research evidenced what many of us anticipated:
– Stereo-types are set from age four and don’t really change thereafter
– Behaviours are significantly influenced by socio-economic contexts
– The gender gap is alive and well
– Girls engage with activities recommended for younger children, whilst boys engage with activities recommended for older children – this is regardless of their backgrounds
– Globalisation rules – there is little difference in children’s behaviours between the UK and Mexico
“Houston we [still] have a problem”4 and one way or another, all our children are affected.
If our collective responsibility is about tomorrow being a little better than today, about social mobility for all, then we must concede that we have a job on our hands. In the UK, as in other parts of the world, standardised testing has become the arbiter of social mobility, yet there is more regulation of the food we feed our pets than of the tests to which we subject our children.
Social mobility is not a fad, not a band wagon. It is something personal, which will take longer than the lifetime of a parliament to progress. Its ignition are experiences – positive, realistic experiences empowering children to understand cause and effect, purpose, enabling them to join dots, to aspire and write their own narrative of the possible; experiences that allow them to work out that the only place where ‘success’ comes before ‘work’ is in the dictionary. Social mobility cannot be taught.
KidZania, through its experience-based learning approach, will continue to play its part, offering ‘futures awareness’ that empowers children to take charge of their own aspirations – to be “the Appliance of Science”5. There are now even ‘Junior Careers Fairs’ where children meet real pilots, window-cleaners, surgeons, futurists, actors and YouTubers; where they listen to the Chief Cashier of the Bank of England, former Secretaries of State for Education, or Iron Maiden’s drummer. KidZania answers ’why’ questions!
Why? Because “The mind once enlightened cannot again become dark.”6
1 Michelle Obama, 2016
2 Dr Ger Graus OBE, Global Director of Education KidZania, 2007
3 The Carnegie Papers, 2011
4 Apollo 13, 1995
5 Zanussi advertisement, 1981
6 A Letter Addressed to the Abbe Raynal on the Affairs of North America, Thomas Paine, 1781