Respect & Understanding

Significant steps towards a street – and a world – for all.

Since its very inception, Sesame Street has been committed to bringing together children from all walks of life. For more than four decades, different cultures, ethnicities, abilities, and colors — including bright blue and feathery yellow — have lived, played, and learned together on Sesame Street.

Our socio-emotional curriculum goes a long way in promoting values of sharing and getting along with others. But sometimes tackling issues of living and playing together in today’s diverse society demands a more direct approach. Such was the case after 9/11, when we created an episode specifically to address the subject of social exclusion. Research shows that after watching the episode, children are significantly more likely to know and apply lessons such as “leaving people out is wrong” and how to use language to stop situations in which others are being excluded. And the lessons last: Children are still able to apply the learning weeks later.8

In parts of the world where children live with conflict and division, we address these issues head-on with targeted lessons in cooperation, conflict resolution, and openness to others. Our programs in Israel and Palestine are one example. Both our Israeli program, Rechov Sumsum, and its Arabic-language Palestinian counterpart, Shara’a Simsim, are successfully sowing the seeds of open-mindedness. Research shows that, after watching Rechov Sumsum, Israeli children from both Jewish and Arab backgrounds are more likely to suggest democratic solutions to conflict, such as talking instead of using force.1 Likewise, Palestinian children perform better on a broad range of learning outcomes after watching Shara’a Simsim compared to those who don’t watch. The differences between viewers and non-viewers are particularly pronounced when it comes to themes like “Cooperation” (almost 18% higher), “Sharing” (15% higher), and “Helping others” (almost 11% higher).3 What’s more, watching Rechov Sumsum and Shara’a Simsim makes both Arab-Israeli and Jewish-Israeli children feel much more positive about the “other” group.2

In another part of the world, Sesame Tree, the Northern Irish version of Sesame Street, is also moving the needle toward mutual acceptance. As research bears out, children who watch Sesame Tree show a significantly greater willingness to be inclusive of others. This shift in attitudes is also evident in another research outcome: Sesame Tree viewers are more interested in participating in cultural events associated with other communities.5

Elsewhere in Europe, our four-year commitment to Kosovo has led to a remarkable change in children’s perspectives, driven by two local iterations of Sesame Street — the Albanian-language Rruga Sesam and SerbianUlica Sezam and accompanying outreach materials. Children who watch Rruga Sesam or Ulica Sezam are 74% more likely to demonstrate positive attitudes towards children from different ethnic backgrounds than those who don’t watch.4

We’re reinforcing the idea that we’re all different but the same in another important area, too: gender equality. Cultural biases about girls’ roles and abilities are found across the globe. Our work in countries like Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Egypt aims squarely at elevating expectations for women across society. And research shows our efforts are indeed raising the bar. 4- to 6-year-olds who watch Egypt’s Alam Simsim do much better on gender equity measures than those who don’t. In fact, 6-year-olds who watch frequently have scores twice as high as those who watch less.7 Our gender equity efforts are paying off in other ways as well: by giving boys and girls more equal access to essential early education such as literacy and numeracy. When they watch Sisimpur, the local version of Sesame Street, Bangladeshi boys as well as girls show faster attainment of academic skills such as literacy and math, skills essential to school and life. Literacy scores of 4-year-olds are as much as 67% higher than those who don’t watch.6

Of course, these efforts can’t close deep divisions overnight. But by creating a street where every child feels valued, respected, and has a chance to learn, we can help make each new generation a little more accepting than the last.

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Our Respect & Understanding-related impact studies
1 Walden, T., Arafat, S. H., Yahia, G. H., Sandbank, A., Wertheim C., & Zimmerman, H. (2009). The contribution of initiated viewing of Rechov Sumsum to the social perceptions of kindergarten-aged children. Beit Berl, Israel: Beit Berl Academic College.
2 Cole, C.F., et al. (2003). The educational impact of Rechov Sumsum/Shara’a Simsim: A Sesame Street television series to promote respect and understanding among children living in Israel, the West Bank, and GazaThe International Journal of Behavioral Development, 27(5), 409-422.
3 Fluent Public Opinion + Market Research. (2011). Shara’a Simsim impact assessment: Report of research findings. New York, NY: Fluent.
4 Fluent Public Opinion & Market Research. (2008). Assessment of Educational Impact of Rruga Sesam and Ulica Sezam in Kosovo: Report of Findings. New York, NY: Fluent.
5 Larkin, E., Connolly, P., & Kehoe, S. (2009, August). A longitudinal study of the effects of watching Sesame Tree on young children’s attitudes and awareness. Centre for Effective Education, Queens University Belfast.
6 Overall literacy score of 4-yr.-olds with high exposure to the show is 54.8 vs. 32.9 for those with no exposure. Associates for Community and Population Research (ACPR). (2008). Sisimpur’s Reach and Educational Impact Evidence from a National Longitudinal Study. Dhaka, Bangladesh.
7 Average gender equity score of 6-yr.-olds with high exposure to the show is 3.2 out of 4 vs. 1.6 out of 4 for those with low exposure. Rajiv, R.N., Fieguero, M.E., & Federowicz, M. (2006). Impact of Alam Simsim among 4-to-6-year-olds in Egypt: Effects on math ability, literacy skills, and gender attitudes. Baltimore, MD. Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs.
8 Truglio, R.T., Kotler, J.A., Cohen, D.I., & Housley-Juster, A. Modelling life skills on Sesame Street. TELEVIZION 18/2005 E, 15-19.