Social Inclusion Case Study: Sesame Workshop

December 6, 2011

by AQ Inclusion

Sesame Workshop, the non-profit educational organization behind "Sesame Street," Plaza Sésamo,  and so much more, was founded over 40 years ago as Children’s Television Workshop with the goal of helping prepare children from low-income families for school. As UNESCO’s 2010 Education for All Global Monitoring Report highlights, education “enables people to make choices in areas that matter.” It adds that those who lack “literacy and numeracy skills face a heightened risk of poverty, insecure employment, and ill health.” Social inclusion, therefore, is a topic that has always been at the heart of Sesame Workshop.

With its goal of closing the academic gap, the organization became inherently focused on promoting social inclusion. Since then, the Workshop has expanded its reach to over 150 countries all over the globe, addressing various issues from health and well-being, to mutual respect and understanding, and of course, early literacy and numeracy and school preparedness.

Sesame Workshop’s dedication to social inclusion can be summarized in its mission: “Sesame Workshop is committed to the principle that all children deserve a chance to learn and grow; to be prepared for school; to better understand the world and each other; to think, dream and discover; to reach their highest potential.”

Specifically with regard to Latin America, Sesame Workshop has initiated several outreach projects to supplement the messaging in Plaza Sésamo, "Sesame Street"’s Latin American counterpart. Like "Sesame Street," Plaza Sésamo also focuses on early pre-school learning, with a special emphasis on basic literacy and numeracy, diversity, gender equality, and health. It airs in 34 countries, reaching millions of children and families. Outreach initiatives provide the opportunity to work with local partners in the community such as rural schools, hospitals, women’s prisons, and community centers to develop contents and programs that address specific needs.

Below are just some of the outreach initiatives taken on by Sesame Workshop in Latin America:

Healthy Habits for Life

Healthy Habits for Life is a multimedia initiative to help improve the quality of life for children and contribute to their overall health and well-being. This is achieved through awareness and outreach campaigns targeted to preschoolers, parents and caregivers. In Mexico, the campaign focused on nutrition, hygiene, and physical activity. This included two seasons of Plaza Sésamo dedicated to the topic of health, ten public service announcements (PSAs), as well as outreach targeting disadvantaged children enrolled in school feeding programs via messaging with Plaza characters on milk cartons in collaboration with TetraPak. In Colombia, the Healthy Habits for Life initiative focused on cardiovascular health and featured new segments of Plaza that were shot and produced locally, as well as teacher trainings, parent workshops, community viewings for areas with limited access to television, and comprehensive kits for schools and homes in low-income areas.

Sesame Workshop partners with TetraPak to encourage "Healthy Habits for Life." (All photos courtesy of Sesame Workshop.)

Plaza Sésamo in Nahuatl

According to the aforementioned UNESCO report, “Reaching the Marginalized,” in Latin America “being Indigenous raises the probability of being in poverty by between 11 percent and 30 percent, depending on the country.” In Mexico, Sesame Workshop partnered with the Mexican General Department of Educational Television to launch a pilot project to promote Plaza Sésamo’s educational content among Mexican Indigenous communities. The objective of the study was to mobilize technology as a tool for outreach and reach underserved Indigenous populations in Mexico. For the pilot, an episode of Plaza Sésamo was dubbed into Nahuatl and screened to audiences of children, teachers and caregivers throughout the country. The project received strong, positive results from the participants across the board demonstrating the need for Plaza programming in Nahuatl and other Indigenous languages. Not only can it enhance the self-image of Indigenous children, it can also increase exposure for non-Nahuatl speaking children to Indigenous cultures and languages. Teachers, especially those in Indigenous communities, felt it would be a huge asset in and out of the classroom.

Sesame characters in Spanish-speaking print and audio media.

PSA Campaigns

Sesame Workshop also produces public service announcements (PSAs) leveraging the popularity of the Muppets to address critical issues with both children and their parents. Previous PSA campaigns have included messages such as hand-washing to prevent the spread of Dengue in Puerto Rico and the H1N1 virus in Mexico; the proper way to cough or sneeze; emergency preparation campaigns for Chile and other areas that are prone to natural disasters with simple but important messages like knowing your name and knowing your parents’ names; and messages addressing the socio-emotional well-being of children including coping with the aftermath of natural disasters or child abuse in Colombia. PSA campaigns are aired on television as well as radio platforms to maximize reach and impact.

Sesame Workshop impacting Nahuatl children.

Conclusion

Research affirms that early childhood is the most critical period for brain development; the UNESCO report adds that “people who are left behind in education face the prospect of diminished life chances” beyond just school. By addressing needs through education as early as possible, Sesame Workshop strives to give disadvantaged children a chance to realize the right to education and health. Latin America is rich in diversity and culture—and full of possibility; Sesame Workshop strives to open doors and imaginations to a brighter, happier and healthier future for all.

 

Tags: Education, Social inclusion, Media, Children

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