All around the world, children are talking about Sesame Street. German children like Sesamstrasse, children in the Netherlands tune in to Sesamstraat, and in South Africa, Takalani Sesame Street is a big hit. No matter how it’s said, kids love Sesame Street.
But there’s one big difference. These Sesame Street international programs (there are 22 in all) are co-productions developed, country-by-country, by local production teams. While many of the 75 countries showing Sesame Street either present the American program or show it with audio dubbed in the appropriate language, Sesame Workshop believes that children in other countries respond best to a cast of characters and settings that reflect their culture. “International Sesame Street programs are not just U.S. transplants,” says Sesame Workshop President and CEO Gary Knell. But, of course, each program still has the Sesame Street essence.
Each international version has a specific curriculum, created with the input of local educators. While most countries choose to cover basic reading, writing and thinking skills, other aspects of the shows are often different.
Take Kami, for instance. Kami, a furry yellow 5-year-old Muppet, is an HIV-positive girl orphaned by AIDS. Kami helps South African children understand the complex issues of HIV/AIDS. In fact, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has appointed Kami a global “champion for children.”
Funding for these productions comes from a variety of support channels, including partnerships with government, corporations, philanthropic organizations and individual contributors.
Knell is passionate about Sesame Street’s international agenda. “We live in an inherently complex, troubled world that requires our children to understand other worlds and cultures,” he says.
Global understanding is part of the domestic agenda, as well. Here in the United States, Sesame Street continues to introduce children to other cultures through segments such as Grover’s globe-trotting.
Sesame Workshop’s ultimate goal is to address the whole child, Knell says. “ABCs and 123s are critical, but so are respect, understanding and basic health issues.”
Jean Sheff is an editor for United Parenting Publications.