January 14, 2018
Sesame Street is an iconic brand that embodies humor, acceptance, and humanity. Who doesn’t love a muppet? So, on December 20 when the MacArthur Foundation announced they were giving Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee $100 million to educate young children from displaced Syrian families and help them deal with “toxic stress,” most people were thrilled. While the optics were great, I’m here to tell you these muppets are definitely not the type of “friends” Syrian refugee children need.
How will Sesame Workshop and the IRC spend the MacArthur award money? Much of it will be spent on educational technology:
• Sesame-branded educational content delivered on televisions, phones and digital platforms
• home visits reinforced by digital content and parenting resources provided via mobile devices
• child development centers equipped with video-clips pre-recorded on projectors and activity sheets
This approach exactly reflects concerns raised by an April 2017 report published by Education International on the education of Syrian refugee children. The report found that many donors were providing “decontextualized interventions” that focused too much on technology.