Mohammad Shah Alam, Executive Director of Sesame Workshop Bangladesh illustrates on the beloved children’s program embarking into the digital realm and the brand’s vision to expand with diversified products to further their outreach.
Sisimpur marked a successful run of 16 years last April, can you tell us about the history and current initiatives of Sisimpur?
After two years of tireless preparatory work in 2003 and 2004, Sisimpur was launched in the Bangladesh market in April 2005. This local version of world-famous kids’ television program Sesame Street has been made possible in Bangladesh through the generous support by USAID. Another organization had been behind this initiative – Nayanta Communications, a sister concern of Asiatic Marketing Communications Limited, under the leadership of renowned cultural activist and artist Sara Zaker. From 2013, Sesame Workshop opened their local office in Bangladesh as Sesame Workshop Bangladesh (SWB). Sesame Workshop works around the world in more than 150 countries with the mission of helping children grow smarter, stronger, and kinder. The objective of Sesame Workshop’s operations is making early childhood education delightful and enjoyable for Bangladeshi kids.
Sisimpur is well-known for its television programming in Bangladesh, but there is more to it – Sisimpur is a comprehensive initiative for Early Childhood Education, and we have a variety of initiatives and services to reach young children and their caregivers. This program has been developed to address educational needs of kids between the ages of 3 and 8. Along with the kids, parents, caregivers, and teachers are involved with Sisimpur through different school and community-based interventions. SWB also develops and distributes content for digital platforms, school based educational materials, trains teachers, monitors classroom activities and provides technical assistance for using them in the classroom along with community engagement and outreach programs. Since its inception, Sisimpur has been a tremendous success in Bangladesh and within a very short time, it became the most famous television program for kids as well as their caregivers. Throughout its 16 years journey, Sisimpur reached millions of children and currently has been reaching more than 12 million per year. Along with children, we are also reaching parents and teachers following an integrated model of ‘Reach and Teach’. Our current initiatives are Sisimpur Television Series being broadcasted by BTV, Duronto TV and Maasranga TV, Sisimpur digital platforms, School Interventions, and Community Outreach.
You have launched a downloadable App recently – can you elaborate on that? How has it created an impact on the many children in Bangladesh out of school?
Yes, a few months ago we launched an app which can be downloaded from Google Play Store. This is a comprehensive platform for children where there are many different stations of contents including videos, storytelling, story PDFs, drawing corner and games. Parents can easily download this app on android phones and let their children access these wonderful, age-appropriate contents. There is also a corner for parents as well, where they can access content on parenting essentials. This platform is loaded with lots of content, and we have plan to upload more in the future. Creating a safe internet space for the children of Bangladesh and to let them grow with key life skills at an early age are the objectives of this platform. Along with the app, this platform is also available on our website.
One of the special features of this platform is the COVID-19 station where different sorts of audio-visuals and print contents both for parents and children are available. The contents are focused on several health aspects considering the COVID-19 pandemic. This platform is one of the most potential initiatives of Sesame Workshop Bangladesh that will help to create new and diverse learning opportunities for young children throughout the interactive digital ecosystem. So, we strongly believe this platform will play a crucial role in creating an effective learning environment among children and their parents and caregivers, not only during this pandemic but also in the overall context. Per our platform dashboard, there has been more than 20,000+ number of downloads so far and this will grow more in the years to come.
Sisimpur content has demonstrated efficacy in improving behaviors of caregivers and shaping parents’ interactions with their children.
What different content did you cover through your initiatives and can you tell us about the development partners you have worked with?
Sesame Workshop Bangladesh implemented different projects funded by different development partners successfully over the last 16 years and we have featured many different areas essential for Early Childhood Development. We have created both audio-visual, digital and print contents on the issues of Basic Literacy and Numeracy; Health Hygiene, Nutrition and Safety; Financial Literacy, Injury Prevention; Respect, Tolerance, Understanding and Diversity; Natural Disaster Preparedness; Culture and Heritage; Self Respect and Self Esteem, etc.
Yes, you rightly mentioned that we work with development partners. From the very beginning, we have been working with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the relationship is continuing even today. We also worked with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; World Food Programme (WFP); LEGO Foundation; UNHCR, Plan International; AO Alliance Foundation; and with MetLife Foundation. And most importantly, we work with the Government of Bangladesh.
What initiatives have you taken after the onset of the pandemic?
Very good question. Sisimpur always intervenes to meet the need of the time and throughout the period of COVID-19 pandemic we have taken a series of initiatives globally and locally. With support from LEGO foundation, in partnership with UNICEF, we have created a series of awareness content on COVID-19 for children and parents. We have worked with several TV channels out of our regular broadcasters to air video contents on COVID-19 awareness. We distributed content through our official Facebook page and through our YouTube channel. Children’s content covered the essential hygiene protocols of washing hands, covering mouth while sneezing, wearing masks, washing masks, maintaining physical distance etc. For parents we have some special content on how to help children during the pandemic.
How has Elmo’s World News assisted in disseminating information to both children and parents regarding safety guidelines? Can you tell us about further initiatives being incepted through the segment?
I see you got a lot of information about us. That’s inspiring. In Elmo’s World News, Elmo hosts a pretend news program from his bedroom, calling on Halum, Tuktuki, Grover, and children from around the globe to share ways they’re continuing to play and learn while staying safe at home. This is a 25-minute special Sisimpur episode that models playful learning activities for families to do together at home, and give children strategies to manage big feelings like frustration or sadness. In the episode, Halum and Tuktuki share breaking news on how children are managing and expressing their ‘big feelings’ through movement and dance, while Reporter Raya shares a playful and interactive update on ways children around the world maintain daily routines. Weather Reporter Grover uses his imagination to ‘bring the outside inside’ by adapting his favorite outdoor activities to create indoor fun. Special Correspondent Cookie Monster tells viewers about his ‘Things That Make Me Happy’ box, a simple activity families can do together to practice mindfulness and gratitude with everyday objects
With so many children in Bangladesh out of school, Sisimpur is always here to support families with the tools they need to foster playful learning at home and cope with challenges. We always try to harness the power of play to help families across Bangladesh to build the resilience that will help them during these tough times and beyond.
For around seventeen years, this program has been created to meet the early education needs of 3 to 8 years old children. Can you tell us how Sisimpur is looking to meet its goal to address the needs of the parents, caregivers and teachers?
Sisimpur has been addressing educational needs of the young children and it’s the understanding that Sisimpur is an initiative for children. But this is an opportunity to let people know through you that parents, caregivers and teachers are also our targeted audience since they play the most important role of helping children develop and learn. We undertake different school and community-based interventions to help parents and teachers. We develop and distribute school based educational materials, train teachers, monitor classroom activities and provide technical assistance for using them in the classroom along with community engagement and outreach programs. We also reach parents through our e-learning app and other digital media platforms. Sisimpur content has demonstrated efficacy in improving behaviors of caregivers and shaping parents’ interactions with their children.
I am also happy to let you know that on our official Facebook page we started a weekly campaign named ‘Friday for Parents’ this September. Under this campaign, every Friday we will upload contents for parents and caregivers, so they can better care for their children.
As you said, Sisimpur is reaching more than 12 million children across Bangladesh. How is the brand looking to expand itself?
Although Sisimpur started with a television program, it has ensured its presence in the multimedia platforms that uses technology ranging from high-technology devices including computers, tablets and smartphones to relatively low-technology ones like print materials, community outreach and radio. As the workshop looks forward to the future, one of its greatest challenges will be keeping children’s attention in a crowded media market. In order to stay relevant, the workshop’s leaders recognize that it must continue to adapt to a changing media landscape by diversifying its products and delivery methods. With the emergence of new digital platforms, such as YouTube and OTT platforms, the workshop has experimented with other ways to deliver its educational content, including online and mobile devices. This has not only enabled the workshop to widen the number of devices used, but also to explore the potential of each medium to enhance learning. Keeping these changes in mind, Sisimpur has ensured its presence in digital media like YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. So, now kids can watch our shows not only on TV but also on digital media platforms. And we also have our own eLearning platform, where kids can not only watch the episodes, but also can have a 360-degree experience of Sisimpur.
Soon, we will be partnering with a few renowned OTT platforms to ensure the presence of Sisimpur in every popular and emerging platform. The key reason behind it is that now people have different ways to access content. You never know on which platform people want to watch your content. And that’s why you should ensure your presence on every popular platform so that at the end of the day, you don’t have to be afraid of missing out.
As a pre-primary educational program, is Sisimpur looking to further its commercial pursuits? If yes, can you tell us in which direction the brand is looking to maneuver into? What other products can consumers expect from Sisimpur?
From Halum to Tuktuki, the characters from the series have been a staple of Bangladeshi households for a generation. The brand has achieved its lengthy success due to, in no small part, its ability to evolve. We have continually adapted to the changing needs of young kids by taking inventory of modern culture and implementing strategies that meet the needs of the children. With high brand awareness and a roster of instantly recognizable and iconic characters, including Tuktuki, Halum, Ikri and Shikhu – each with their own distinct personality and attributes. Sisimpur is perfectly positioned for merchandising, licensing and advertising campaigns looking to win the hearts of fans who have remained connected to the furry friends of Sisimpur since childhood.
Now we want to work with corporate partners to invite kids and fans of all ages to engage with our beloved characters through Sisimpur branded consumer products. What we dream of as our future endeavors is to diversify our reach and impact. We wanted to make Sisimpur branded educational stationery, clothing and many other products in the market. We also dream of a Sisimpur Theme Park if we find an ambitious partner willing to invest. We’re looking to partner with companies who are producing environment-friendly products that have a positive impact on the lives of the children. Our aim is to help children be satisfied with quality educational materials and accessories, where the the core objective of Sisimpur will be to help them get educational messages with such distributions.
Is there anything you would like to say to conclude?
We are living in a digital era. While there are so many positive things and platforms for learning, it is a hazardous environment as well. It is the adults’ responsibility to ensure a safe internet environment for children and facilitate an environment that helps children learn while having fun.
I would also like to request to the renowned local corporations to come together so that we can make a positive contribution to the lives of young ones through devising innovative products. We are primed and ready to explore the opportunities together.