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The KidZania phenomenon
Chances are that if it is within striking distance of KidZania in one of the 19 countries in which the brand has now been established, your school has organised a class or year group visit. If you haven’t come across them before, ‘KidZanias’ are large interactive activity spaces which extend the idea of role play on a really grand scale, for children up to the age of 14.
Typically children who visit can choose from up to 60 career roles in a number of different work environments - from banking, theatre and police work to aviation and TV journalism. Children read the news, land aircraft, fight fires, look after patients, fight crime … you get the idea.
What roles do children choose?
One interesting by-product of the KidZania phenomenon is an emerging body of research evidence into the choices made by children who visit, which is beginning to provide new insight into their perception of adult roles, and of those for which they have a preference.
Dr Ger Graus OBE is KidZania’s global Director of Education based in London - at Westfield in Hammersmith & Fulham. He and his team have worked with Havas London, to analyse the role choices made by some 61,000 four to fourteen year-olds, noting, for example, which children opt to be pilots and who expresses a preference to be part of the cabin crew; which children get excited about the prospect of being an engineer for the day, and which prefer to imagine themselves as beauticians.
What the evidence shows
The research team have found a stark contrast between the choices made by girls and boys at the ages of 4 and 14 and - even more noteworthy - they found that the choices that both genders made at 14 years of age are very similar to those made by four-year-olds of both sexes. Career aspirations, according to this evidence, it seems, remain very conventional and are set at an even earlier age than might be expected.
We may not be surprised that young boys are more likely to choose firefighting as an occupation than young girls, and young girls are more likely to opt for a role in the cabin crew rather than the cockpit, (but what does that say about us?). However, it is striking that, despite UK government initiatives to encourage more girls to get into STEM careers and to break down the gender divide surrounding certain careers, girls and boys seem to be exhibiting the same conventional aspirations in secondary school as they were when they start primary. Efforts to alter stereotypical views of potential careers seem to have hit a wall.
The Westfield London KidZania deploys women working in the aeroplane area of the city, and men in the beauty salons - in a bid to dismantle any preconceptions of gender roles, but to little avail. 70 per cent of boys choose to be the pilot compared to just 30 per cent of girls, whereas 70 per cent of those who choose to work in the cabin crew were girls - and this was true across the age groups and across the socio-economic divide.
The strength of career stereotyping
So why aren’t children’s career aspirations changing between the ages of 4 and 14? Dr Graus suggests a number of potential answers to this question, but underlying everything is the relatively low priority given to careers guidance in school at an early enough age. Moreover, the anecdotal evidence arising from conversations with the children’s parents who attend the centre also suggests that they too have had insufficient careers advice when they were at school.
Dr Graus thinks that the problem is linked to the prevailing educational culture in which ‘success’ is conventionally measured in terms of league tables, PISA rankings, and how much of the government-approved curriculum has been taught, as opposed to the all-round learning and development of young people.
He laments the fact that by the age of 14, career aspirations remain obstinately narrow and, and that not enough is being done to broaden their outlook when children are younger: “Children are expected to make important decisions regarding their futures very early, yet we provide them with the tools to make these decisions far too late . . . this is just bonkers!”
“Aspiration” is a word that constitutes more hype than substance in most cases, he says - “it is lip-service provided by the system and its controllers and ‘the new black’ for the education-fashionistas”. In the end, he believes, his adage that “children can only aspire to what they know exists” holds true and it is from there, through experience-based learning, that “building a creative approach to social mobility” needs to start.
The way forward?
So where does this leave us? In Dr Graus’s view, primary schools in particular must be given greater incentives to place Careers Awareness as a precursor to Careers Education at the centre of their curriculum; and the world of work needs to be made to play its part: “How about work experience for seven year olds?” he ponders.
“Resources need to be directed towards developing ‘the whole child’ and not just on training children to pass tests. Until this happens, the career stereotypes are unlikely to be challenged.”
As a result of their research KidZania, Havas and BETT will be conducting further, global analysis and following an extensive consultation process will be presenting their recommendations to governments during BETT London in January 2018.
If you want to find out more about the research conducted by Ger Graus and his team, you can join our BSME Webinar on 19th October 2017 at 16.00 hours. You can also meet Ger at the BETT Conferences globally when he will be presenting the research findings and thoughts about children’s futures. Dr Graus will be presenting a further keynote address to the OECD gathering in Lisbon, Portugal, in May 2017 and to the IPEN Conferences in in Shenzhen, China, in August 2017 and Dallas, USA, in July 2018.
The BETT Conferences are: BETT Middle East (Abu Dhabi, 25th and 26th April 2017), BETT Latin America (Mexico City, 18th and 19thOctober 2017), BETT Asia (Kuala Lumpur, 15thn and 16th November 2017), BETT UK (London, 24th to 27th January 2018).
Tue, 06 Jun 2017
Wed, 18 Oct 2017
School level: All
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