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University of Wisconsin-Madison: Meta-Analysis Shows Learning Impact of Sesame Street Around the World

Sesame Street is a “Scalable and Effective Intervention,” Say Researchers

(New York, NY, April 18, 2013)  According to a soon-to-be published meta-analysis conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, watching international co-productions of Sesame Street has a positive effect on children’s learning and is an “enduring example of a scalable and effective early childhood educational intervention.”  Commissioned by Sesame Workshop, the study was led by independent researchers, Dr. Marie-Louise Mares and Dr. Zhongdang Pan, who will present their analysis at the 2013 Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development in Seattle.

The authors analyzed the results of 24 studies, conducted with over 10,000 children in 15 countries. Their findings indicate significant positive effects of exposure to Sesame Street across a number of learning outcomes: cognitive outcomes (including literacy and numeracy), learning about the world (including health and safety knowledge), and social reasoning and attitudes.

The study showed an average 11.6 percentile difference between viewers and nonviewers (an effect size of 0.29).  This is comparable to what other researchers found in an evaluation of interventions in which children in developing countries were assigned to attend on-site preschool programs and/or caregivers were trained to provide higher quality care.  Through its broadcasts and other distribution mechanisms around the world, however,Sesame Street reaches a vastly larger scale impacting millions of children daily.

“The significant, positive effects of cognitive, learning, and socio-emotional outcomes observed in the current meta-analysis represent real educational benefits for the millions of preschool-age children around the world who visitSesame Street via their televisions,” said Dr. Mares.

Starting with the earliest studies of Sesame Street conducted by the Educational Testing Service in the 1970s,Sesame Street has become the most researched television show in history.  A significant body of evidence of the program’s educational value in the United States has emerged.  The meta-analysis offers insights into the strengths of the application of Sesame Workshop’s localized approach to developing high quality educational media for young audiences across the globe.

“With programs designed by producers and educational specialists in the countries where we work, our international projects seek to meet the most critical educational needs of children in a given locale,” said Dr. Charlotte F. Cole, Senior Vice President of Global Education at Sesame Workshop.  “Research helps us understand children’s changing needs, how media can best address those needs, and most importantly, if the programs are having an effect.  We are thrilled to have additional solid evidence that our approach is contributing to early childhood education efforts and supporting early learning around the world.”  Sesame Street has a global reach of at least 156 million children in the 0-7 age range.1

“Effects of Sesame Street: A meta-analysis of children’s learning in 15 countries” will be published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology (Elsevier) in its May/June issue, Volume 34, Issue 3.

Sesame Workshop is the nonprofit educational organization that revolutionized children’s television programming with the landmark Sesame Street.  The Workshop produces local Sesame Street programs, seen in over 150 countries, and other acclaimed shows to help bridge the literacy gap including The Electric Company.  Beyond television, the Workshop produces content for multiple media platforms on a wide range of issues including literacy, health and resilience. Initiatives meet specific needs to help young children and families develop critical skills, acquire healthy habits and build emotional strength to prepare them for lifelong learning.  Learn more

Note to editors
Full text of the article is available to credentialed journalists upon request, contact


Beatrice Chow
(212) 875-6586

1. Reach was calculated for 21 countries based on market research studies with nationally representative samples and projected to the population of children based on 2013 international census figures.   The percentage of children we are reaching in these 21 countries is 20% (which is the weighted average based on the population for each country).  This reach estimate was extrapolated to the remaining 130+ countries.  Sesame Street’s reach represents 16% of the global 0-7 population (1.004 billion).
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