Entertainment-Education and Sesame Street

In his report on the “family tree of development communication”, Waisboard mentions Entertainment-education as a strategy to bring about behavioral change. This change in turn is what is supposed to drive development (versus change brought about only by changing the system).

An example of an entertainment program that at the same time is educational to invoke change is Sesame Street. Aside from teaching the ABC’s the idea behind the program is that the muppets can address problems within a particular culture without putting blame (or shame) on a specific ethnicity or group of people. The Sesame Street Workshop is an NGO that takes that idea and applies it in countries that have faced some type of conflict or are in transition. By working with a country crew on the ground that assesses specific issues kids in a country in transition face, a team creates story lines, cultural specific puppets, and a movie set where the local sesame street can be taped. Specifics the team has to keep in mind are: are there cultural minorities? Is the language of the minority different and if so how can that be addressed in the show? What problems are children in the country facing? How can those problems be approached in a childlike yet educational and entertaining matter?

A big issue was the introduction of the first HIV-positive muppet. Especially in the US this raised concerns as media and parents were wondering what values their children will be taught. Only when it became apparent that this muppet will not appear in the US-show did the wave of concerns and protest subside.

There is a documentary out there on the Sesame Street Workshop. Watch it over the break, it’s worth it!

Though this is slightly unrelated, I thought you might enjoy this cookie monster “share it maybe” song. šŸ™‚ Something to cheer you up during finals week.



2 thoughts on “Entertainment-Education and Sesame Street

  1. Franzi, thank you for this fascinating bit of information. I had no idea that Sesame Street had introduced an HIV positive character. Something that struck me as interesting is that Waisbord begins his article by saying ” ideas are the independent variable that explains specific outcomes. Based on this diagnosis, development communication proposed that changes in ideas would result in transformations in behavior” (pg 3) and notes that this is a key point in modernization theory. However, modernization generally refers to bringing Western ideas to developing countries. The Sesame Street example seems to be the opposite of this — a non-Western country is trying to change the way that a Western country behaves in regard to HIV/AIDS. Ultimately, Kami the HIV-positive muppet won’t be brought to the US because of the concern that American parents expressed, which seems to indicate a traditional culture that prohibits the adoption of modern views regarding children who are HIV-positive. HIV/AIDS is not going away any time soon…maybe educating American children about it would have been a good thing.

  2. Agreed, Franzi, thanks for sharing the CNN article about Kami, a new HIV-positive Sesame Street character, joining the usual characters in the Nigerian adaptation of Sesame Street, “Sesame Square.” This is a great example of what Liew Kai Khuin explains that health dramas, “Health messages are exhibitions of positive psycho-behavioral mechanisms for coping with disability or disease that typify the ideal sociocultural traits of the individual” [1]. Kami will allow the show to tackle difficult issues pervasive in Nigerian society while satisfying the public’s demand for less explicit or direct “health instructional health narratives and for dramatic demonstration of knowledge through para-performances in television serials” [2]. I think a critical element that will lead to the success of Sesame Street’s adaptation within Nigeria is the fact that the show’s production team will include Nigerian scriptwriters and collaboration with local teams who will help with producing content sensitive and attuned to Nigeria’s local culture. I think this is a crucial element in development and health communication projects’ successes. They must include the participation of local stakeholders who can assist in framing the issue in such a way that the local culture will be receptive to it.

    Considering that HIV/AIDS is actually an important health issue here in the United States, why do you think the Sesame Street Workshop will not facilitate a dialogue about it? Why do you think American parents are so up in arms about the possibility of Sesame Street including an HIV positive character in the American version in order to educate their children about this critical issue? Do you think Sesame Street Workshop has an obligation to listen to such backlash and adjust its programming plans accordingly? Thanks again for sharing.

    [1] Khuin, Liew Kai. “Informatization-Dramatization: Communicating Health in East Asian Television Dramas.” International Journal of Communication. 2012. 2040.
    [2] ibid.

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