Thursday, December 2, 2010

Edutainment Shows, What Kids Learn from Them

After listening to last week’s presentation about Sesame Street’s different versions in different parts of the world especially in China, how they succeed and fail, there are some points I want to make.

Edutainment is a form of entertainment designed to educate as well as to amuse. For those entertainment TV programs designed for kids, the culture implication matters a lot because it has influence on whether they can accept them, what they learn from them and how they precept the world. In my point of view, the attention and endeavor given to those TV shows can never to be enough.

In the case of Sesame Street, I think the main reason for its failure does not lie in the image of the Big Bird and other Muppets; although it is totally new to Chinese kids, it is still within the scope of “acceptance”. The main reason for the failure should be the content it tried to present to Chinese kids and the way it present it.
Here I would like to mention another TV program which was introduced in China from the States in late 90s – Beakman’s World. Beakman is a crazy scientist who is doing different scientific experiments using materials and facilities people can find at home with a crazy girl and a giant mouse with funny ears. The image of Beakman is scarier and crazier (dirty face and weird hairstyle like he was survived from the exploration) than the Big Bird. However, after Beakman’s World was on show in China, a lot of kids loved it and they started to follow Beakman’s instruction to do experiments by themselves. So why kids in Chinese can accept the crazy and weird scientist Beakman rather than the Big Bird?
In the first place, it is because of the content of the show. The content of Beakman’s World covers a larger age rank of kids (from preschool to high school). It is more challenging and interesting. It is something related to the knowledge from school about also different. Also, Beakman’s world gives kids a choice to participate, interact or not. Most Chinese kids do not like or get used to those shows require a high interaction. However, Beakman’s World gives them choice and if they want, they can create their own experiment and be more creative.

The second point comes to the way Beakman’s World presents the content. As I mentioned before, some of the experiments in this show are relevant to the knowledge from Science class at school. But the “lecture” format of science class can never satisfy kids’ curiosity and their eager to participate. In Beakman’s World, kids can do experiment by their own, they can be more creative which gives them a sense of achievement, also, it cultivate their ability of individual thinking and organizing.

Another very important point for the failure of Sesame Street and the success of Beakman’s World is the time when they were introduced in China. The Big Bird was introduced into China in 1983, less than 5 year after the Opening up Policy, when people in China were still wearing the clothes of the same color; when people did not know what pop music was; when kids were taught in school that the aim for studying was to contribute to the society and the Communist Party ; however, personally, I do not think it is the right time to let kids accept and like Sesame Street and actually it was beyond their ability to understand and enjoy it. Nevertheless, about 15 years later, when Beakman’s World came to China, everything was different. Kids are ready to expose themselves to something new something completely different from before.

Today, there are lots and lots of edutainment TV shows for kids, helping them learn knowledge and train their living abilities. But there should be another mission for those edutainment shows which is to cultivate their ability to accept something new, something different.


  1. I think you made some very valid points. I remember this show vaguely, but your right the format enables it to reach a larger audience and gives more choice in participation.A key element it seems in reaching children in China and perhaps the rest of East Asian.
    Listening to the presentation I did wonder about the timing as well as the format ignoring previous methods of teaching. I was unaware of the "Opening up policy" which I think attributes a considerable amount to the failure of Sesame Street, beyond the muppets and perhaps the content. Though the content of muppets does lean considerably more towards western thinking and participant oriented learning.

  2. I think you're spot-on about the timing of the introduction of Sesame Street being a factor in the show's failure in China. This is a great example of resistance in the message environment (Singhal and Rogers).

    Additionally, I imagine that TVs were quite a luxury at the time. I wonder how a Sesame Street adaptation would do now that TV penetration is so high and that Chinese children and parents have different attitudes toward education and learning.

  3. First, I have to admit that I have not watched the show "Beakman's World". I was wondering whether it is canned show, with the original format, but dubbed into Chinese Mandarin or not.

    Second, I need to clarify that the "Big Bird in China" which was a made-for-TV show by American directors in 1983. But their goal is to reaching China, to bridge the cultural gap between China and America, at least expose American children to some authentic Chinese culture. Also, I could not find out much information whether the made-for-TV show was imported to China or not. First and formost, Sesame Street does not have a sound brand in China back in the 1980s.

    But again, when Sesame Street was doing the co-production business with Shanghai Television in 1998. They fail again. The time for Sesame Street should be right. China has already opened up its door to the outside world since 1978. Like you said Beakman's World is more related to students' school life and it has a wider range of audience groups from preschool to high school students. But Sesame Street in China is only targeted to preschoolers 3-6.