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A ‘Digital Professor’ on How to Combine Education with Entertainment

A ‘Digital Professor’ on How to Combine Education with Entertainment

© Kidzania.com

Dr. Ger Graus, Global Director of Education at KidZania, is a visiting lecturer invited to work remotely with HSE University students. Last academic year, Dr. Graus conducted a series of seminars on ‘Schooling vs Education’ for students of the Master's programme in Educational Administration.

Ger Graus is a renowned expert in the field of ‘edutainment’, a pedagogical technology that combines education with entertainment. His numerous awards and titles include Officer of the Order of the British Empire. In recent years, his main focus has been KidZania, which started out 22 years ago as a small project in Mexico aimed at giving children an opportunity to try their hand at various professions. Today, the project has 27 large parks in 19 major cities around the world—including Moscow—where children can learn about more than 150 professions in a game format.

Dr. Graus was invited by the HSE Institute of Education to work with one of its divisions, the Pinsky Centre of General and Extracurricular Education. The centre studies informal education, i.e. the education sector that goes beyond the school curriculum.

Ivan Ivanov, analyst at the Pinsky Centre of General and Extracurricular Education

‘Dr. Graus’s lectures on Schooling vs Education were not only a great success with the Master's programme in Educational Administration, but also turned out to be in high demand at other graduate and doctoral programmes at the Institute of Education. Professor Graus was actively involved in our research and worked with Russian colleagues.

One such collaboration was the publication of ‘Edutainment Centers as an Educational Phenomenon: The Case of KidZania’ in the Educational Studies Moscow journal. Professor Graus was one of the authors of the article. We are also currently working on a book about Russian Edutainment. KidZania collaborates with world-leading universities, and collects data that it is willing to share with Russian scientists.’

Professor Graus was a moderator, participant, and inspirational force at two international roundtables on non-formal education organized by the Institute of Education at the end of 2020. The first roundtable led to the publication of a manual on best practices in post-Soviet countries, which opens a mini-series of publications on ‘Post-Soviet extracurricular education’. The second roundtable was devoted to the influence of the pandemic on non-formal education, and was attended by Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills at OECD.

In an interview with the HSE News Service, Professor Graus noted that school education around the world is not practice-oriented: ‘We have well-schooled children, but in terms of life and experiences, they are ill-educated.’ Career guidance will help solve this problem, and five-year-olds can be encouraged to take an interest in their future professional opportunities using the environment.

Dr. Ger Graus, guest lecturer at HSE University’s Institute of Education

Our global research of nearly 600,000 children has shown that all stereotypes are set at the age of four: boys are pilots, and girls are at the counter, and there is almost no change between 4 and 14. One of the conclusions we reached is that the differences between the children from different countries are statistically negligible.

Even though girls outperform boys in STEM tests, when they come to pursue their career interests, they revert to stereotypes. Another finding is that almost all girls globally, regardless of their background, choose activities below their age; there's a confidence issue. The provision of the role-models and the space to get the experience will help to find solutions to overcome this.

Dr. Graus explains that informal education centres such as KidZania help children explore their interests and values. Activities help children to reflect on themselves and understand who they are, which gives them experiences that drive their thirst for learning and curiosity.

‘Our research demonstrated that children can only aspire to what they know exists. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds, who have had fewer experiences, are unlikely to choose the aeroplane or the operating theatre as their first choice. Instead, they will choose being a courier, because that is within their fields of experience. That is how you begin to see how vital experience-based learning is,’ he says.

Professor Graus believes that the discussion must involve the industry and the private sector—those who run big or small businesses—to find out what kind of skills they are looking for in addition to academic ones. If they consider those skills essential, they should help students gain the relevant experience while studying at university. Professor Graus participated in a discussion of these issues at the HSE Institute of Education alongside Dr. Isak Froumin, Dr. Natalia Kiseleva (Deputy Head of the Moscow Department for Education and Science), and representatives of key businesses and student bodies.

Ger Graus also shared his impressions of HSE University students: ‘Young people in Moscow have unbelievable energy, a great thirst for success. They are all going incredibly fast, they are eager to travel, to absorb—and well-travelled people become well-educated people. I saw this in HSE students.’

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