• Martin Schmalzried

KidZania: not realistic enough

KidZania has become something of a sensation all over the world in the past decade. Founded by a Mexican entrepreneur, the main idea is to develop a sort of “theme park” for children in which they get to experience the world of work in an entertaining and fun way. Children get to work in mini-versions of real multinational corporations like McDonalds, H&M or Procter and Gamble, and receive a salary which they can spend inside the park (going to the movies, buying food…)

The concept has received both very positive and negative reviews, some lauding its educational merits, providing children with a meaningful experience to help them understand the life of a working adult and thereby be better equipped to think about their future (studies, professions…), others slamming it for being a giant advertising and marketing scheme, aiming to present in a positive light certain brands and cement their importance in the minds of children, making them future loyal customers when they finally have some “real” purchasing power.

But there is a much deeper critique which has seldom surfaced about KidZania which I will write about here: it is not nearly realistic enough.

This is how KidZania should function in order to educate children about the future in the world of work which they will likely experience:

First, upon arriving in KidZania, children should be split randomly in two groups: the “working class” and the “capital investors class” (the latter being 1% of the KidZania children).

Among the working class, about 10% should remain unemployed and have access to only minimum “benefits” (KidZania money), barely enough to have any meaningful fun. The rest should be dispatched and work in the various jobs available in KidZania.

The capital investors class get to watch a video where they inherit from a fictitious older parent the ownership of the shops and companies in which other KidZania children work.

At the end of every workday, the working children receive their pay, but out of every 10 KidZania money made, about 4 are taken away from them and given to the capital investors children.

Then the unemployed kids are given a choice: remain unemployed, or compete with the working children to get their job. The adults supervising the park should arbitrate the bidding: for instance, the unemployed kid will get the job if he/she agrees to work for less and if the currently employed kid refuses to lower his/her pay, then he/she is replaced and is in turn, unemployed. Of course, the pay is not lowered per say, but the share taken from the pay going to the capital investor children grows (for instance, out of 10 KidZania money, 5 is withheld).

The capital investor kids get their pay at the end of each day and have access to "special" VIP activities which only they have enough money to pay for. Working class children can also access these activities, but they would need to work prohibitively long to pay for them. Obviously, capital investor kids get to sleep in luxury quarters, working class children in regular accommodation,... you get the picture.

Now of course, we could go further if we wanted to push realism, but these should be the new “foundations” of a more life-like and educational KidZania to prepare kids for the world of work. In the future, we could imagine teleconferences between the various kids chosen as capital investors to compare their gains and the cost of labour in their respective KidZania parks and then outsource part of the jobs where labour costs are high to other KidZania parks where they are low. Even better, open special “developing country” themed KidZania parks in which there are no H&Ms or McDonalds, but rather raw fabric sweatshops and intensive animal farming which sends the finished goods to “developed country” themed KidZania parks. In the "developing country" themed KidZania parks, the children would get a measly few cents, just enough to buy stale bread inside the park.

Hopefully, KidZania will see the educational added value at increasing the realism of their park and better prepare children for what their adult working life will be like.

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