November 7, 2009 – Asia’s first digital playground is trying to excite Hong Kong’s children about the “language of learning” with its operators starting a new public push in the city to get kids out of their lounge rooms and into the open air.
The SmartUs playground was established at the end of July at Hong Kong’s Cyberport — a combined retail and IT district — but in the past week has been pushed to the fore again with the backing of the city’s government-funded Trade Development Council (TDC).
Built by the Finnish Lappset Group, the playground offers games designed to “develop motor skills, muscle control, hand-to-eye coordination, memory, strategies and even math skills,” according to the TDC.
The concept is to combine digital technology with traditional playground games — thereby giving children tests, challenges or directions and then keeping scores related to how they respond. More importantly, it needs the kids to actually get outdoors.
“In every country, children are playing outdoors less than before,” Lappset’s Asia-Pacific director Joakim Heino said.”The whole idea with SmartUs is to bring the kids out again. So, after they play here, they can go home on their computer and compare their scores. Then, they can say,’‘Hey, today I’m number one worldwide, or I’m number 102′.”
Lappset have in the past two years set up digital installations in 17 regions and countries and have plans for 20 more digital playgrounds to be finished by the end of the year — mostly in mainland China, South Korea and Japan.
He said Hong Kong was chosen because children are under pressure to learn from an early age.
“Often, that ends up being passive learning,” he told the TDC’s website.”We want to study how active learning affects these kids.”
Cyberport was chosen as the venue for the venture as the district was originally built by the Hong Kong government as a centre for the development of creative industries.
It also holds a monthly flea market and last Sunday there were a few children at least who had ventured to the nearby playground as well. But their reactions were mixed.
One of them, 10-year-old Isabella Tsang was found running around, while her mother and father looked on and offered some encouragement, but didn’t really seem to have her heart in it.
“Ï just think they could still make it about having fun,” she said.