Giving Kids a Feel of the Workplace

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The Nation. March 5, 2012. (English). KidZania offers hands-on try out of their future careers. Children everywhere love playing grownups and have fun while they are roleplaying. Such fun can have its constructive side too, helping adults discover which professions their children would prefer and boost their inspiration for preferred careers.

It may be impossible for children to test out a real working environment, but there is now a theme park that can provide a realistic environment to help them learn how to work and participate in an adult society and its economy. It’s called KidZania and one visited by The Nation last week is in Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur.

At one exhibit, children waiting their turn stood in long lines and watched through windows as other kids played the roles of surgeons, nurses and dentists in the rooms inside a mock hospital.

Those playing the roles listened as staff advised and instructed them before attempting to carry out the work adults do in such medical professions.

The children also crowded into other mock workplaces where they could enjoy trying out different roles of other professions, including a pilot training institute where they experienced mock flight simulators.

This latest branch of the KidZania theme park was opened officially last week when The Nation visited it.

Unlike other theme parks which are just for fun, KidZania has been built up to be a city for children from 3-14 who can play dozens of adult roles, such as pilots, doctors, nurses, bankers, businesspersons, singers, actors, journalists, police officers, firefighters, beauticians and so on. KidZania means “the land of cool kids.”

Everything in KidZania is children’s sized, including buildings, equipment, furniture and vehicles. It is an edutainment venue, combining education and entertainment.

Children attending the mini city will not only be able to learn about careers from the trained staff, but can earn and spend “KidZo”, the currency of the city, as they work at their pretend livelihoods. They can choose to play any number of available roles.

Each child would be given an amount of KidZo money as they entered the theme park. If they run out of money they can look for a job to earn more. They cannot buy money. In one day, it’s possible they might try out between eight and ten professions for which they’ll be paid KidZo money. They can open a bank account to save their pay and earn interest; or they can go to a department store to buy useful items, like stationery.

“The more real for kids the roleplaying is, the more attractive,” said Xavier Lopez Ancona, founder and Global Chief Executive Officer of KidZania.

“While children are having a lot of fun and are happy doing the activities, we want them at the same time to have a good and rich educating experience,” he said.

Xavier said he believed roleplaying could inspire children to work in a profession. “When some children find something they like, they do it many times. They go to the same establishments even though there are many establishments.”

Also, Hernan Barbieri, Chief Integration Officer of KidZania quoted a child as saying “I only expected to become an air hostess, but now I realise I don’t want to be because I don’t want to serve others.”

Xavier said firemen and pilots were among the most popular professions while making sushi was very popular in Osaka. In Dubai, construction work was popular because there were so many sites in Dubai. In Tokyo, the establishments where children had to pay for admission were empty, but ones where they earned money were full. This reflected that society preferred to work and save.

“It’s also good to teach them a little bit about financial literacy. When I was a kid, people said that money grows on trees. Today, children believe that money comes from ATMs. So, we teach kids if they want money from ATMs, they have to work.” KidZania teaches them the way and value of work,” Xavier said.

Children nowadays spend a lot of time by themselves watching TV,on iPods, iPads and computer games interacting with technology. At this theme park, they can learn communication skills and socialising – how to work in a team, he added.

KidZania offers the same concept of educational roleplaying in every country. In each there are 60 establishments and 100 careers available on average for children to learn about for when they grow up.

Now, branches are open in many countries, including Mexico, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, Portugal, the UAE. Four more branches, including one in Bangkok, will be available this year and ten more are under construction in different countries, according to Xavier.

Hernan said they expected to have 700,000 to 800,000 visitors per year in KidZania Bangkok.

Thailand was a very good market with a big population of which 28 per cent are children. Asian and Thai families valued education very strongly. The Siam Paragon shopping complex was a good location for KidZania Bangkok, close to the Skytrain, where tourists and local residents could take their children, Xavier said.

Not only children from prosperous families in Bangkok can enjoy learning about adult roles, but also underprivileged children in different regions of the country would be offered a chance, said Scott C. Schubert, vice chairman of Kids Edutainment Holdings (Thailand), operaters of KidZania Bangkok.

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