Cloud Computing

Harnessing Technology to Level the Educational Playing Field

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As I write and email this from my laptop, my smartphone rests next to it. I could choose to use a tablet. I am on an airplane and all are working. These are technological advances unimaginable not so very long ago. The wow factor surrounding these devices reasserts itself with each new product that is rolled out. But, far more impressive is the potential they hold to transform the world of education.

The other thing about these devices, of course, is their ubiquity. They are more prevalent today than television sets were when Sesame Street was first broadcast in 1969 – with apps becoming more prolific with every passing day. In other words, these devices are where kids are.  And Sesame Workshop is already meeting them there, with all sorts of rich, educational, mobile content.

You don’t go into education or children’s television without a certain amount of idealism. At Sesame Workshop, our mission is to help children everywhere grow smarter, stronger, and kinder.  Sesame Street is the most researched show on television, and more than 1,000 studies have shown it has a positive, measurable impact. But we want to do more. We believe that we must do more.

So we’re teaming up with IBM Watson to try to develop something really exciting: personalized interactive learning experiences for young kids. Why is that important? Because we know that by the time a child reaches the age of 5, their brain is already 90% developed. If we don’t reach kids when their brain is developing the most, it is really hard to go back later and make a meaningful difference. And so many of our children need help — the majority of kids in our inner city schools can’t read or do math at grade level. We need a better way to educate preschoolers.

Sesame Street is successful.  However, we believe that its impact can be so much greater.  Television reaches every kid with the same programming in the same way.  But we know that kids learn differently from one another and that they need – and deserve – a new approach that takes each one of them into consideration.

Now, as part of a three-year R&D agreement, Sesame Workshop and IBM will collaborate to try to develop a new category of adaptive learning that will complement the roles that parents and teachers play. Sesame Workshop’s nearly half century of expertise in education and storytelling will join with IBM Watson’s cognitive technologies, capable of accessing much of the world’s knowledge, interacting with children, learning from those interactions and iterating from there.

Because the first five years of life are so important, we’re going to design new educational platforms and products to adapt to the learning preferences and aptitude levels of individual preschoolers, regardless of socio-economic background. That last part is one of the things we are most excited about. Leveling the socio-economic playing field for kids has been our mandate since Sesame Street’s inception. This project will be a great equalizer, ultimately providing children from all backgrounds with the opportunity for meaningful, personalized education in their most formative years.

To create Sesame Street, Joan Ganz Cooney and her co-founders convened diverse experts – the brightest lights of the day – to help conceive and develop the show. That’s what we’re going to do, again, now. The Sesame-IBM team will gather leading teachers, academics, researchers, technologists, gamers, performers, and media executives to brainstorm ways in which cognitive computing can best help preschoolers learn.

Get the best team together. Harness the technology. See where it leads. We can’t predict every turn this partnership will take; we don’t know yet what the platform will look like, or what apps and programs will be developed. That’s the exciting part. We’re pooling our interests, our experience, our passion, our commitment, and our fervent belief that we can make learning better. We’re going to do it for our kids — and for the world’s shared future.



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