Elmo effect boosts literacy in Indonesia

JOHNS HOPKINS (US) — Children who watch Jalan Sesama, an Indonesian version of the children’s show Sesame Street, learn faster than their peers and make better progress on other developmental skills, a study shows.

Over a 14-week period, the children who had the greatest exposure to Jalan Sesama improved significantly in literacy, mathematics, early cognitive skills, safety knowledge and social awareness, compared to those with no or low exposure to the program, the researchers found. The study is reported in the International Journal of Behavioral Development.

“I was amazed with how much television young children in Indonesia watch,” says Dina Borzekowski, the study’s lead author and associate professor of health, behavior, and society at Johns Hopkins University.

Many of the shows Indonesian children see, she says, are produced for adults or dubbed episodes of children’s shows like SpongeBob SquarePants and Scooby-Doo. Jalan Sesama, she says, was created in Indonesia specifically for Indonesian children.

“With this study,” she explains, “we present evidence that when a culturally and age-appropriate show is offered, it can change the lives of preschoolers. Our data show that 4, 5, and 6 year olds learned important and healthy messages.”

Using a randomized experimental research study design, Borzekowski and co-author Holly Henry, a doctoral student, examined the effect of a 14-week intervention on 160 children in Pandeglang District of Indonesia’s Banten Province. The children, ranging in age from 3 to 6, were assessed at the beginning and end of the 14 weeks.

The children with the greatest exposure to Jalan Sesama progressed further in knowledge and skills than of any of the study groups, even after adjusting for baseline scores, age, gender, parents’ education, and exposure to other media.

Jalan Sesama is produced by the Sesame Workshop with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development. The program uses live action, puppetry (traditional and new), and animation to deliver relevant lessons on literacy, mathematics, safety, culture, environment and other subjects. Among the special Muppets appearing on the Indonesian show are Jabrik, a problem-solving and creative white rhino, and Tantan, an environmentally conscious orangutan.

A similar study was done by Borzekowski of Kilimani Sesame, a Tanzanian version of Sesame Street. In that study, published in July 2010, Borzekowski found that children with greater exposure showed more gains in cognitive, social and health outcomes than those with less exposure.

Specifically, children who were more receptive to the Kilimani Sesame content had higher scores on tests of literacy and primary math skills, greater ability to describe appropriate social behaviors and emotions, and knew more about malaria and HIV/AIDS.

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