Sesame Street Goes to Pakistan
Launched in 1969 as a program designed to enhance school readiness in low-income and minority children, Sesame Street was the first television series to attempt to teach an educational curriculum to children as young as two years of age. Sesame Street is not entirely new to Pakistani audiences - the original American version ran on local TV during the 1990s.
Sesame Street International already co-produces 18 localized versions in Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kosovo, Mexico, Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Palestine, Russia, South Africa , and reaches millions of children in 120 nations around the world. The Indian adaptation called "Galli Galli Sim Sim" and Bangladeshi adaptation "Sisimpur" were both launched in late 2006 with USAID funding. Pakistan's SimSim Humara represents the 19th local adaptation of the 42 year old original American Classic.
Sim Sim Hamara will be set around a dhaba, Urdu name for a roadside tea shop, and it will show residents hanging out on their verandas. It will feature Rani, a cute six-year-old Muppet, the child of a peasant farmer, with pigtails, flowers in her hair and a smart blue-and-white school uniform. Other characters include an energetic woman, Baaji, who enjoys family time and tradition, and Baily, a hard-working donkey who longs to be a pop star. They'll speak entirely in local languages - Urdu and four regional languages of Balochi, Punjabi, Pashto, and Sindhi . The only monster from the original American version being retained is Elmo, the cheerful toddler, but he will be recast with new local personality touches. Each show will pick one word and one number to highlight.
Faizaan Peerzada, the head of a Pakistani theater group that is collaborating with Sesame Street's American creators, told McClatchy Newspapers: "The idea is to prepare and inspire a child to go on the path of learning. And inspire the parents of the child to think that the child must be educated". Peerzada added that "this is a very serious business, the education of the children of Pakistan at a critical time."
Funded by a $20 million grant by US AID (United States Agency For International Development), the show will be carried by the state-owned PTV channel which reaches every nook and corner of Pakistan. It will reach 3 million pre-school kids via television screens in their homes. In addition to 78 TV episodes in Urdu and 56 in regional languages, there will also be a radio show and several mobile TV vans to show the program in remote areas and a traveling Muppet road show to front public service messages, on issues such as health, to reach 95 million people.
It's an opportune moment for TV shows like SimSim Humara to ride the wave of the current media revolution sweeping the nation. It began ten years ago when Pakistan had just one television channel, according to the UK's Prospect Magazine. Today it has over 100. Together they have begun to open up a country long shrouded by political, moral and religious censorship—taking on the government, breaking social taboos and, most recently, pushing a new national consensus against the Taliban. The birth of privately owned commercial media has been enabled by the Musharraf-era deregulation, and funded by the tremendous growth in revenue from advertising targeted at the burgeoning urban middle class consumers. Analysts at Standard Charter Bank estimated in 2007 that Pakistan had 30 million people with incomes exceeding $10,000 a year. With television presence in over 16 million households accounting for 68% of the population in 2009, the electronic media have also helped inform and empower many rural Pakistanis, including women.
Larry Dolan, the director of the education office at USAID for Pakistan, told McClatchy that the expenditure on SimSim Humara is a valuable addition to the "series of different pots" of educational assistance the U.S. provides. "Teaching kids early on makes them much more successful when they get to school. And this program will have the capacity to encourage tolerance, which is so key to what we're trying to do here," he said.
Thirty years of research by Georgetown University Early Learning Project has shown that Sesame Street has made a huge positive impact on increasingly diverse American society.
Here is a summary of some of the key findings reported by Georgetown:
1. School-Readiness : In studies completed after Sesame Street's first two televised years, viewers experienced positive outcomes in the areas of alphabet and number knowledge, body part naming, form recognition, relational term understanding, and sorting and classification abilities.
2. Long-term Benefits : In a longitudinal study examining the long-term impact of preschool-aged viewing of Sesame Street, it was found that exposure to the program in the preschool years was significantly associated with secondary school achievement.
3. Social Impact : Sesame Street has also been evaluated with regard to its ability to teach prosocial behavior to young children. Some studies have shown that children were able to generalize demonstrated behaviors in free play situations (Zielinska & Chambers, 1995), while others have found that children were only able to imitate the behaviors in situations similar to those appearing on the program (Paulson, 1974). Sesame Street has also been successful in contributing to children's understandings of complex issues such as death, love, marriage, pregnancy, and race relations. (Fisch, Truglio, & Cole, 1999)
4. Sesame Street has proven to enhance academic skills and social behavior. Children's television based upon collaborative efforts to develop appropriate curricula for young viewers is now more prevalent than ever.
In addition to teaching basic reading and math skills, Pakistan desperately needs to instill in its people greater tolerance and acceptance of diversity to ensure a more pluralistic and peaceful society for genuine democracy to take root. It is my earnest hope that SimSim Humara and other shows like it will be carefully scripted and presented to lay the foundation to move Pakistan closer to Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah's vision of a peaceful, pluralistic and democratic Pakistan.
Sim Sim Hamara
Sim Sim Hamara Youtube Channel
Pakistan's Media and Telecom Revolution
Impact of Cable TV on Indian Women
Early Childhood Education in Pakistan
Newsweek Joins Pakistan's Media Revolution
UNESCO Report on Pre-School Education in Pakistan
Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah's Vision of Pakistan
Billion Dollar UK Aid For Pakistani Schools
Pakistan Must Fix Primary Education
Teach For Pakistan
Developing Pakistan's Intellectual Capital
Intellectual Wealth of Nations
Resilient Pakistan Defies Doomsayers
Student Performance By Country and Race
India Shining and Bharat Drowning
South Asian IQs
Low Literacy Rates Threaten Pakistan's Future
Light a Candle, Don't Curse Darkness
Mobile Phones For Mass Literacy in Pakistan
Poor Quality of Higher Education in South Asia
Teaching Facts vs Reasoning