By Fanny Ohier
Xavier López Ancona is the creator of KidZania, a venue for kids where they can behave as their parents do, a small city where they can play at going to work and effectively learn skills useful for their future.
Since the first KidZania was built in Mexico in 1999, the concept has spread around the world and currently there are 13 locations worldwide, from Asia to South America, Europe and Middle East. The preparations for KidZania Cairo started in early 2011 and the location will open in the coming months. Tarek Zidan, the governor of KidZania Cairo, explained that “depending on the political situation, we will open in mid-August or mid-September.”
Who never pretended to be a fireman, a doctor or a cashier as a kid? KidZania offers children the opportunity to play pretend, but with the real equipment adapted to their size. For almost a day, children pretend to be adults in a small city entirely built for them.
López Ancona explained “Everyday [children] imitate the life of adults. That is where the idea comes from; looking at children’s favourite game and saying let’s do this better. ” KidZania is more than just play, however, which is one of the foundations of the concept. “Children have fun and learn at the same time,” underlined the founder, and explained his concept is called ‘edutainment,’ meaning it is both educational and entertaining. “It is very vocational,” he emphasised. “At a very young age they can see what life can offer them.”
In KidZania Cairo the children can choose from around sixty different jobs. By playing to be a teacher, a pilot or a banker, the children can begin to make up their mind about the professions they could consider to study and practice later. They are also introduced to how a city as a whole functions; they get an overview of the roles that the government, police, and fire stations have in a community. This educational aspect also plays a role in each of the numerous professions they can try, and the children get an explanation of a profession’s the history and its purpose.
“The most important thing is that each establishment [in a KidZania city] is sponsored by a real company,” López Ancona said. “Most of the time they are local brands that the children already know, trust and are familiar with.” As a result, around the world, every KidZania varies and is adapted to the society in which it is established. So far, KidZania Cairo has 35 partners.
The KidZania tutors, who accompany the kids in the location, have the challenging task to teach needed skills to the kids in whichever profession they want to try; in KidZania Cairo they are spoiled for choice; they can learn the basics of journalism from Al Ahram newspaper, TV programming from TV channel CBC and radio mechanisms from Nile FM.
In the facility children are paid for their work with KidZos, KidZania’s currency. The goal of paying them this salary is to teach them the role money has in the society. Like in the real world, they can put their money in a bank or spend it in KidZania’s facilities and shops. “We really teach the kids the world of work and how important it is in our society,” said López Ancona. “We also promote values and help the children to develop skills to deal with each other.”
“Among the activities we are very proud to have in Egypt are those that have to do with social work,” “Governor” Zidan said, referring to the Egyptian Food Bank facility in KidZania Cairo, where children learn to collect the food, make food packages, and distribute them to families in need. As a simulation of the real social structure, KidZania Cairo “prepares what we call the new generation of the Egyptian Food Bank,” said Zidan. Kids “learn they do not only work for themselves, sometimes they work for free and sometimes they donate money to those who do not have the chance to come to KidZania Cairo.”
Although KidZania is built as a closed city, its concept allows it to interact with the society outside. Children are able to convert their actions inside KidZania Cairo into real changes for those children outside. They will be given the opportunity to turn their KidZos into real Egyptian pounds which can be used to fund orphanages, schools and hospitals. “This money could build an additional room in a school,” was the example Zidan gave. “We decided that almost 10 percent of the expected number of kids that visit KidZania every year will be admitted for free. That is our own social role to the community,” he continued.
Due to its educational value, schools represent the most important segment of KidZania visitors. The complex is implementing a system that gives a free KidZania ticket to a disadvantaged child for each visitor that is brought to KidZania by a partner school. This system will allow children from a public school, an orphanage, or a low income family to also visit. “KidZania is for all the kids,” Zidan emphasised, “it is not only a society that is accessible for the rich.”
Because the entire city is made for children, parents are not invited to play in KidZania. At the entrance the young visitors are given a security bracelet so their parents can keep an eye on them from a distance or visit the different stores in the mall where KidZania is located. Children from 2 to 14 years old are welcome and the price for a visit lasting five hours is EGP 130. The days in KidZania are split into two shifts, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon, during which the children can experience five to seven different jobs.
Operating at full capacity, KidZania Cairo will be able to receive 1,200 visitors per shift. The whole project in Cairo offers 500 to 600 jobs to young people and there are plans for expansion in both 6 of October City and Alexandria. “We invest and spend money during a time when everybody is uncertain about whether investors are going to come to Egypt or not. However, it is our belief this is the right time,” Zidan said.