Yesterday a subsection of the OLPC Learning Team for the Middle East had an exciting meeting with representatives from Shara’a Simsim, the Palestinian branch of Sesame Street. In the United States, Sesame Street is well-known for its beloved characters like Cookie Monster and Oscar the Grouch, who help prepare young children for school and instill in them a love of learning from the earliest ages. Less well-known, however, is Sesame’s work around the world, including what Sesame Workshop refers to as “Muppet Diplomacy.” Muppet Diplomacy may sound like a funny phrase, but it refers to the very serious efforts that Sesame dedicates to helping children around the world develop into respectful, contributing members of an increasingly interconnected world. Building on Sesame’s efforts to promote respect and collaboration across racial lines in the US, international versions also seek to break down children’s perception of the “Other.” Shara’a Simsim follows in this path, promoting respect for differences. Although the show doesn’t directly address the region’s conflicts, it does aim to provide Palestinian children with positive role models. Producers state that these efforts are particularly important for boys in conflict situations because they often feel the additional weight of social pressure to remain strong and defend their families. Shara’a Simsim has dedicated episodes to helping children cope with fear and to developing positive images of themselves and their communities.
Sesame continues be a leader in producing high quality multimedia learning tools for children. Panwapa is a recently developed website for children that is functional in five languages. Children can learn basic household vocabulary and the numbers 1-10 in five different languages by playing Hide-and-Seek with Cocoa the Penguin. They can watch videos about children growing up in different countries around the world. The Palestinian Sesame team is working to develop additional interactive content for children in Arabic. OLPC is eager to build upon our relationship with Sesame Street. We are looking forward to pooling resources and sharing advice so that together we can make the highest quality learning tools available to the children most in need all around the world. Yella bina!