Case #9: Pakistani version of Sesame Street
By Eleanor Milburn

Pakistan is facing an educational emergency where 20 million Pakistani children have zero access to education, 50% of Pakistani public schools lack clean drinking water, 37% of schools have no toilets, 55% of government schools have no electricity, 33% of the children will never see the inside of a school, and a quarter of Pakistani children will have no education at all.

Television is an inexpensive and enduring form of informal education for children. Supported by a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the well regarded Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop in Pakistan partnered with Sesame Workshop to create Sim Sim Hamara, the Pakistani version of Sesame Street, which brings high-quality early education to a population spanning 90 districts and five languages. With unique characters and educational messages tailored to local needs, the program focuses on literacy, math, cognitive skills, healthy eating, manners, safety, gender equity and social inclusion. It’s also about teaching parents to think their children should be educated.

Sim Sim Hamara debuted in December 2011 and has aired weekly on Pakistan television in Urdu along with editions in four additional languages for regional broadcast. While a television program that airs twice a week cannot compensate for limited schools and teachers, according to Faizaan Peerzada, who directs Sim Sim Hamara, in the Time World article “Pakistan’s Sesame Street: Can an Urdu Elmo Aid a Blighted Nation?”: “To me, Sim Sim Hamara is a gift to Pakistani children, and a window into homes that might think their children are better employed in the fields than at school.”

The creators met with educators and civil service members in the provinces throughout Pakistan in order to develop the program themes and scripts, so the show is rooted in both pedagogical lessons and cultural understanding.

Reuters/Mohsin Raza

The lead character, Rani, is a 6-year-old female Muppet who loves science and reading. In a country where only "22% of Pakistani girls complete primary school, Rani is a model of female empowerment". Through Rani “You are not just teaching little girls that they can have dreams,” says Sesame Workshop executive vice president Sherrie Westin. “You are also teaching boys that it’s O.K. for girls to have those dreams.”

At the time, Sim Sim Hamara was reaching more than 3.5 million Pakistani children who might otherwise have no access to preschool education. “This is a smart investment,” says Westin. “Early-childhood education is one of the most effective ways to build stability in any country.”

Educational theories have proven that early childhood intervention substantially affects literacy and numeracy achievement. The Sesame Street model has had a lot of success in educating and shaping children in the U.S. and around the world. Some of the other Sesame Street versions around the world have shown success including a 67% rise in literacy scores in 4-year-olds, and scoring twice as well on gender equity measures in 6-year-olds.

The intended outreachplatforms for the show included several seasons, radio episodes, puppet shows, mobile screenings around the country, and an interactive website. However, USAID cut the grant in June 2012 due to supposed fraud from the the theater (though possibly due to the worsening relations between US and Pakistan). But even as USAID cut the grant, they reiterated it was not because of inefficacy; State Department spokesman Mark Toner stated “No one is questioning, obviously, the value and positive impact of this kind of programming for children." The episodes can continue to be seen on YouTube.

Read Case #10: Integrated ICT Approaches in China

Both videos source: Sim Sim Hamara's YouTube Channel: