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Sim Sim Hamara: Sesame Street, Education, and Local Determinism in Pakistan

By Fatima Tuz Zahra

Non-formal education for children can come in a variety of forms now. The only limitation seems to be monetary: that is can parents – more so society in general – afford to give children these lessons outside the classroom? In this context, television continues to be the cheapest and most enduring form of non-formal education for children. This article will highlight the case of Sim Sim Hamara, the Pakistani version of the classic U.S. show Sesame Street, which began airing in Pakistan on December 2011, using a piece  in Time.

Source: Sesame Street in Pakistan, BBC. http://goo.gl/YMZRx

A Classroom of Learning and Tolerance and No Schools in Sight

According to “Pakistan’s Sesame Street: Can Urdu Elmo Aid a Blighted Nation”, Sim Sim Hamara is directly connected to USAid and thus is a part of U.S. strategy to foster religious tolerance and fight against the commonly held conception of rampant Islamic extremism in Pakistan. However, the politics of the project pales in comparison to its exigency, which is that almost 60% of Pakistan’s school-age children cannot read, and nearly three decades of neglect have left the country’s educational system in a “parlous state”. As Faizaan Peerzada, a master puppeteer and one of the directors of the series makes clear: “People might have thought it was some kind of brainwashing project. But at the end of the day, all we are doing is teaching a child to count”

Using the Sesame Street model, Sim Sim Hamara utilizes “short skits, song segments, and celebrity appearances” to educate on matters of real world literacy, such as counting and basic reading.  Additionally the character of the heavily made up Muppet aunty who runs the dhaba – includes lessons on “manners, healthy eating, and safety.” The article also points out that what makes Sim Sim Hamara especially interesting is that it also argues for religious and communal tolerance by using “subtle creativity”, and women’s education through a 6-year old female Muppet, who is captain of the cricket team and is passionate about science and reading.

Hegemony vs. local determinism

The Sim Sim Hamara project is funded by USAid and therefore its objectives do reflect the U.S.’s stated goals for development in the region: increasing female education and decreasing Islamic extremism. Numerous articles have pointed out that the reason the U.S. is funding this program is probably to boost its own credibility in the country, which currently is quite low, and for the program to work as a sort of social-engineering tool that is a direct manifestation of soft-power or propaganda.

However, contrary to the charges of hegemony and machinations, the local staff working on the show report that their U.S. backers have been rather hands-off on the project. Rather than work under Sesame Street Workshop, the Sim Sim Hamara team has collaborated with the parent company to develop the content and lessons for the show. Sim Sim Hamara is based on careful research by local scholars, national seminars, as well as four provincial workshops that were organized to gather educational advisors from various fields and stakeholders in Pakistan’s education scenario.

Sim Sim Hamara is also notable because of its commitment to the multilingual reality of Pakistan. Over the four years of its operations, which have been funded by USAid, it will broadcast 78 episodes in Urdu, and 13 in Sindhi, Punjabi, Pushtun, and Balochi.

Ultimately, as Perzada makes clear in an interview on The Guardian, the goal of the show is to “…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.” Taken at face value the goals are clear: to foster the capabilities and capacities of the children and – a point often avoided in the politics of children’s education – to teach the parents as well that education is an important tool for children.

In conclusion, Sim Sim Hamara seems to be a project that can genuinely affect the children of Pakistan. As evidenced by notable studies such as Georgetown University’s Early Learning Project, the Sesame Street model and show have had a lot of success in educating and forming children in the U.S. and around the world. In the region there are local varieties of the show in India, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan; the first two have been operating with great success for over six years and have become independent programs, which no longer rely on donor funding. With luck Sim Sim Hamara will have the same success, and Rani and the gang will become Pakistan’s piyaara dostos for years to come.

Sources:

Pakistan’s Sesame Street: Can an Urdu Elmo Aid a Blighted Nation? in Time Global Spin on Feb 20, 2012: http://goo.gl/W7Me8

U.S. Bankrolls Pakistani Sesame Street Hoping It will “Increase Tolerance” in Fox News on Oct. 31, 2011: http://goo.gl/5Du65

Sesame Street for Pakistan, studying the effect of cocaine on birds’ sex lives, and Stonehenge for Pagan Air Force Cadets: Billions of federal dollars ‘wasted’ as U.S. debt explodes in Daily Mail on Dec. 23, 2011: http://goo.gl/O2SJc

US Spends $20M on Pakistan Version of ‘Sesame Street’ to Help Fight Terrorism in The Christian Post on Nov. 1, 2011: http://goo.gl/Ic5Qc

Sesame Street International: Pakistani Edition Of Iconic Kids’ Show Launched in the Huffington Post on Nov. 1, 2011: http://goo.gl/RUQbA

Sim Sim Hamara: Sesame Street Comes to Pakistan in The Express Tribune Blog on Nov. 29, 2011: http://goo.gl/jX4vt

Exclusive: A win-win with Sim Sim in http://www.dawn.com on Dec. 11, 2011: http://goo.gl/3kfkB

Pakistani Sesame Street Preaches Tolerance in http://www.dawn.com on Oct. 31, 2011: http://goo.gl/z1l2S

Educational TV serial for children from Dec 10 in http://www.dawn.com on Dec. 2, 2011: http://goo.gl/4xD4g

Sesame Workshop: Around the world: http://goo.gl/anfb0

Sesame Street goes to Pakistan in South Asia Investor Review on April 9, 2011: http://goo.gl/JbjXc

Sesame Street comes to Pakistan in the Guardian on April 7, 2011: http://goo.gl/uDSqI

Georgetown Early Learning Project: http://goo.gl/9xPRm

ICT and Education in Chile

By Maria Aguirre

What is Enlaces?

Enlaces is an ICT program first introduced in 1992 by the Ministry of Education of Chile. First as a pilot, and then as a national educational program in Chile, its main objective was to improve the access to technology in public schools. In that sense it aimed to reduce the existent gap between the technological services that students from private and public schools get. The program was thought to motivate not only students from under-resourced schools, but to encourage teachers to promote learning in “modern” ways. In the video, the program Enlaces is introduced, portraying how fourth graders are highly motivated by the positive effects of ICT in their learning processes. Teachers also have the opportunity to describe how students’ examinations have improved over time, and what other  positive effects are noticeable in their schools, since the program has been introduced..

Enlaces and its impacts over education in Chile

Chile is a middle-income country with impressive socioeconomic indicators if compared with its regional peers. In the educative field they were the pioneers of introducing ICTs as a tool for learning. A pilot which rapidly grew into a national program was set to create technological access to students from public schools as a way to diminish the gap from those of private, more privileged schools.

In 2008, at least 87% of the school body in Chile had access to ICT thanks to this initiative; with an expected ratio of 10 students per computer (2010), one of the most crucial aspects of Enlaces is its appropriate educational content which includes the Chilean curriculum –supported by the state educational portal Educarchile-.

Among the most important impacts of the introduction of ICTs in Chilean education, according to Enlaces, is the increasing awareness “of the importance of ICT in education” and the new competencies developed by the students which are more related to “XXI century skills”. Under a functionalist point of view, Chile is doing a good job by seeking for its students a broader chance to get timely-appropriate skills by means of the use of ICTs. Functionalism perceives education as a way in which students, no matter their backgrounds or their strata, can achieve the same opportunities than their more privileged peers. Moreover, as students get the chance to improve their learning process, they are expected to improve their academic records and do better on standards examinations. This ultimately leads to a meritocratic-based system, in which all the students have the same opportunities. Even though there are many contradictors to this theory –like conflict theory-, I consider that in this case ICTs are actually affecting in a positive way the range of possibilities and options that a public school student has.. If their access to ICTs were to be neglected, their motivation and their contact with a wider range of information would decline, ultimately affecting their possibilities to succeed in both educative system and market place.

The impact of ICT has not only enhanced the experience of  Chilean students;  teachers are more aware of educational improvements globally  and connect to other educators,  actively participating through virtual communities. Educational administrators have also benefited; by having a system with easy access, administrators can track student records. This set of experiences facilitates the inclusion of international standards in education; furthermore, Chilean students are building  wider knowledge about international development and considering expanded advancement options, like applying to a foreign university.

Upcoming challenges

One of the challenges of Enlaces is that because it started so early, rapid technological advances make it difficult for public policy officials to maintain the technology at a quick enough pace.  Some are concerned that it is not suitable to sustain upcoming technological progress. For example, they built appropriate, large laboratories in order to support large desk computers but now, with the increasing use of handheld devices like personal laptops and e-readers at very affordable prices, these laboratories may become dated or unnecessary. . But, that is the price of technology! With constant changes, policy makers and administrative educators need to be at the very forefront of massive technological updates so they can constantly improve the effectiveness for schools.. Sounds expensive and challenging, right? Yet, along with great technological improvements usually also are more affordable prices, especially for educative meanings; so let’s hope that Latin American countries keep the leadership from their neighbors Chile, Uruguay and Brazil and from international success cases like India and some African countries.

Sources

Linking up with Enlaces (Chile), World Bank Blogs on Octuber 29, 2009. goo.gl/crq0K

Enlaces Program, the experience of Informatics Education in Chile, Chilean Ministry of Education. goo.gl/GAC2N

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