“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” (Michelle Obama, 2016). Brilliant! True! Easier said than done though, Michelle.
I could listen to Mrs. Obama for a living. What she says is profound, intelligent, grounded in reality, often challenging, aspirational; it comes from the heart, is common sense, and more often than not, it is something it would be difficult not to agree with. However, as we know, it is walking the talk that matters.
“Children can only aspire to what they know exists” (Dr Ger Graus OBE, Global Director of Education KidZania, 2007). In building a more creative approach to social mobility it must become our collective aim, through early exposure to opportunity, to broaden horizons so that our children can explore independently, aspire and begin to write their own narrative of the possible. We must aim for children to grow to understand that curiosity is a catalyst, that learning is ongoing and is about connecting prior knowledge to new ideas, and that it can be a satellite navigation system to better places in life. Education is more than schooling and that makes us all teachers.
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” (The Carnegie Papers, 2011). 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, Canada and South Africa. KidZania welcomes a significant number of school visits by children whose socio-economic contexts are more challenging than most. It is advised by a global Think-Tank which sits at the heart of everything educational – some of the world’s leading educationalists from partners such as OECD, WISE, Ashoka, TES Global, JA Worldwide, Early Childhood Association, guiding development globally.
Over the last eighteen months, KidZania has, in partnership with Tribal Planet Inc, 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 behaviors focusing on 445,000 children aged 4 to 14, with the aim to help shape evidence-based educational improvement. We analyzed data from school visits to KidZanias in the United Kingdom, Mexico and India and combined this with local and government statistics regarding affluence, education, health and social conditions. The research is part of the global development towards a ‘Barometer of Children’s Aspirations’. It evidenced that:
▪ Stereo-types are set from age four and don’t really change thereafter
▪ The gender gap is alive and well
▪ Behaviors are significantly influenced by socio-economic contexts
▪ Regardless of their backgrounds, girls engage with activities recommended for younger children, whilst boys engage with activities recommended for older children
▪ Globalization rules – there are no significant differences in children’s behaviors globally
“Houston, we [still] have a problem” (Apollo 13, 1995) and one way or another, all our children are affected.
Ergo, 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 many parts of the world, standardized testing has become the arbiter of social mobility, yet there is more regulation of the food we feed our pets then of the tests to which we subject our children. Social mobility is not a fad, nor a bandwagon. It is something personal, which will take longer than the lifetime of a parliament to progress. Its ignition are experiences – early, positive, realistic experiences empowering children to understand cause and effect, purpose, enabling them to join dots, to aspire; 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.
And not every classroom has four walls. Like so many others, through experience-based learning approaches, KidZania too 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” (Zanussi advertisement, 1981). There are now ‘Junior Careers Fairs’ where young children experience early exposure to opportunity and meet real pilots, window-cleaners, surgeons, 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. We collectively need to answer ‘why’ questions!
Why? Because “The mind once enlightened cannot again become dark” (A Letter Addressed to the Abbe Raynal on the Affairs of North America, Thomas Paine, 1781).