Back in 1966, when the first discussions about a television show to help young children prepare for school were underway; who would have thought that 45 years later the resulting show would be preparing children for school the world over – across 120 countries, through 20 independent international versions.
The latest addition to the Sesame Street Franchise is Sim Sim Humara. A collaboration between Sesame Workshop and the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop, funded by USAID’s US$ 20 million 4 year project, Sim Sim Humara will start airing in Pakistan later next month.
It seems Washington is now trying to quash the influence of radicalism in Pakistan even before it makes inroads into young minds. According to a former Education Officer of USAID, Larry Dolan; “One of the key goals of the show in Pakistan is to increase tolerance toward groups like women and ethenic minorities.”
For this a total of 78 Episodes will be aired over the next 3 years in Urdu. Another 13 in Sindhi, as well as in Pashtu, Punjabi and Balochi are said to be on the cards.
Most grownups today will remember Elmo, Big Bird, Ernie, Bert, Oscar, Grover, Cookie Monster, & the Count. The list of characters is long and memorable. However the Famous Sesame Crew will not be available in Pakistan – with the exception of Elmo.
The Cast of Sim Sim Humara will include Rani a 6 year old (as the Lead) who loves Cricket and Pakistani Music, she will be flanked by Munna a 5 year old obsessed with numbers (Pakistani version of Count), while Baily the donkey, Haseen-o-Jameel the Crocodile and Baaji a strong woman are amongst the few characters that have been identified.
Sesame has successfully adapted to change. Over the years Sesame’s various independent versions have seen specific characters to address the issues in that society. To address the rising AIDS epidemic, Kami a 5-year old HIV-positive Muppet was introduced in Sesame’s South African version. In 2006 Abby Cadabby joined the show as its first female star character to provide a role model for young girls.
The ever growing popularity of Sesame Street can be gauged by its viewership. When the original Sesame Street first aired on November 10th back in 1969, a reported 1.9 million households in America had tuned in. By 1979, the viewership had reached 9 million viewers.
A 1993 U.S. Department of Education survey stated, out of a total of 6.6 million viewers, 2.4 million were Kindergartners, 86% of first and second graders had watched Sesame Street before starting school. 74 million Americans claim to have grown up watching Sesame Street; today 8 million young viewers tune in weekly in USA alone.
Evaluations conducted in the early 70’s have shown Sesame’s positive educational impact on its viewers. Additional studies over the past 4 decades have shown a continued positive effect, due to its content based on laboratory and formative research; following a curriculum “detailed or stated in terms of measurable outcomes.”
Over the years Sesame Street’s format has changed from a magazine type to a more narrative type after research showed its young viewers attention could be held for longer periods than first anticipated. The collection of short funny segments that some blamed for shrinking children’s attention span was phased out.
Since the very first guest appearance when James Earl Jones read the Alphabet, 400 celebrities have followed. From US Presidents Clinton, and Obama to First Ladies (Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, and Michele Obama), to Hollywood Superstars and even Michael Jackson, everyone has made an appearance on Sesame Street.
According to the shows production team, guest stars help draw in parents and keep the show feeling current. Whether Sim Sim Humara will showcase Pakistan’s A-list or not, I cannot say, but I do hope that Sesame’s Pakistani twist will keep the essence of Sesame Street alive.
In case you’re in the mood to reminisce; here’s a trip down memory lane. My Name is You.