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The Muppets Take BangladeshPosted by: admin on Wed, 2010-11-24 12:21
The U.S.-based Sesame Street exports its signature brand of education through puppetry to nearly 20 countries around the world. Here, AudienceScapes offers in-depth profiles of two collaborations in South Asia. Sesame Street began with a vision of educating underprivileged American children using the popular medium of television. While most international co-productions are pursued in that same spirit, the realities of limited access to television have generated some inventive modifications.
Read about rickshaw viewing events in Bangladesh [article below] to reach their large population of illiterate children. Sesame Street’s hallmark emphasis on depicting the diversity of children and families is one of the key features of the international versions – Muppets are created who speak local languages and dress in ways representing each nation’s various ethnic groups. In Pakistan, this emphasis on giving the program an indigenous flavor is considered key to avoiding adverse reactions from the country’s militant elements.
The Muppets Take Bangladesh
The Bangladeshi version of Sesame Street has been embraced as a program that celebrates Bengali culture while elevating the skills of young children. An outreach program ensures that lack of access to a TV or electricity doesn’t prevent children from watching.
By Paromita Pain
Since the Bangladesh version of Sesame Street, Sisimpur, made its debut on television five years ago, it evolved into a robust educational media project. In part this is because Sisimpur doesn’t end when the television is switched off. Dr. June H. Lee, the Director of Global Education for Sesame Workshop, explains that Sisimpur “has both television and outreach components to serve the needs of young Bangladeshi children.”
The outreach component is critical because much of rural Bangladesh has little or no access to television. This is further compromised by the lack of steady electricity in many areas. Delivering Sisimpur to its child audience involves coordinating with various agencies that will make sure the audiences have access to the programs. Sesame Workshop has teamed up with Save the Children and other agencies to organize weekly community viewings in Bangladesh’s more remote regions. Rickshaw vans holding a TV, DVD player, and generator now deliver Sisimpur episodes at these weekly gatherings. Often held under trees or in school buildings if the weather is bad, each viewing session has about 60 children sitting on mats. As they watch, facilitators often stop the show to ask questions, involve the audience and make sure the experience is interactive.
To supplement the television program, educational outreach kits are distributed to parents and caregivers. These kits are designed to help children better understand and assimilate Sisimpur’s messages. Sisimpur’s outreach team trains caregivers (mostly mothers) from disadvantaged communities in how to use the kits in a series of workshops. Most of the caregivers are not literate, but the training emphasizes how they can still engage in educational activities (like storytelling) with their children using materials from the kit. As a result, the kits serves a dual purpose of providing educational content to young children, and offering materials around which caregivers could engage their children.
The first of the kits—focusing on health, hygiene and nutrition—was distributed in November 2005 (the first season of the program). Researchers examined the differences among control and intervention groups in health, hygiene, and nutrition outcomes and discovered the kits had a measurable, positive impact.
Local Partnerships are Central
All productions of Sesame Street outside the United States are co-produced with a local partner. Sisimpur was created by the New York-based Sesame Workshop in partnership with Nayantara Communications, a Bangladesh production company in Dhaka. Nayantara produces the show.
Sesame Workshop director Lee explains that, while Bangladesh demonstrated a “tremendous need for a program like Sesame Street,” it also offered the “resources exist to potentially support it.” Financial support comes from both the governments of Bangladesh and the United States, through USAID.
Sisimpur features four Muppets specially developed for Bangladesh. The characters include: Halum, a cheerful tiger who has the ability to laugh even when things go wrong; Shiku, a clever and inventive jackal; Tuktuki, an extroverted and inquisitive 5-year-old girl who likes to learn everything about the world, and Ikri Mikri, an affectionate and imaginative 3-year-old whose plans don’t always work out.
Measuring the Muppet Effect
Impact studies conducted in the years since its debut have revealed that Sisimpur improves children’s educational skills, especially crucial in this developing nation. Most Bangladeshi children end up working for the family before age 10. About 80 percent of the country’s child populations drops out of school before starting middle school or never goes at all.
One study found that, compared to peers who did not watch Sisimpur, children who viewed only 10 episodes of the series demonstrated significantly greater gains in skill acquisition in a range of curricular areas (e.g., vocabulary, cognitive skills, counting, recognizing disability, recognizing musical instruments, and citizenship) when tested before and after exposure.
Another study suggested that Sisimpur possesses a cultural value for various communities in Bangladesh. Children are actively engaged when they watch the show, and caregivers view Sisimpur as “good for children” and valuable for its educational and pro-social content. It is widely regarded as a Bangladeshi program that is particularly valued for its depiction of traditional Bengali rural culture. Mothers who watch it report thinking in more reflexive ways about the task of parenting and also draw on the music and stories of Sisimpur to enrich their relationships with children.
Commenting on the various studies showing the benefits of Sisimpur to the young children who watch it, Lee said: “These findings are encouraging and help to confirm the value of what we are doing. Sisimpur is not only a beloved program among Bangladeshi children; it has great potential to contribute positively to their development.”
Paromita Pain has been employed with The Hindu Newspaper, Chennai, India since January 2003. She writes for young people on a range of themes, with a special interest in media for young people, health issues, human rights and youth in situations of conflict. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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