Publication Date

April 2005

This 168-page report was prepared for the Takalani Sesame Project, a multimedia and multi-lingual educational programme that includes a television series, a series of radio programmes, and an outreach programme that features a print component. This evaluation examines the impact of Takalani Sesame Season II programme materials on 3- to 6-year-old children who were not in structured preschool. Collaborators in the effort included the Sesame Workshop, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) Education, The Department of Education, with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and Sanlam.

Participants consisted of 175 children, 89 parents, and 20 caregivers (i.e., a Department of Education's Early Childhood Development (ECD) practitioner/teacher). The children lived in a rural South African setting and had no prior exposure to Takalani Sesame. Children in the experimental group received one of four interventions: (a) viewed 16 TV episodes without caregiver mediation; (b) viewed 16 TV episodes with caregiver mediation; (c) listened to 16 radio episodes without caregiver mediation, or (d) listened to 16 radio episodes with caregiver mediation. Mediation by caregivers involved supplementing the learning outcomes targeted during an episode with prescribed activities. Each caregiver was trained and provided with mediation materials. Children in a “control” group were not exposed to Takalani Sesame.

Researchers then used both quantitative and qualitative methods to examine the programme's impact. Specifically, they carried out:

  • interviews with parents and caregivers
  • observations of learners and caregivers before, during and after the screening of the Takalani Sesame episodes
  • learner performance pre- and post-tests measuring literacy, numeracy, and life skills, as well as HIV and AIDS knowledge.

The evaluation is organised around four major research questions, which are explored in depth within the document and summarised here.

Research Question 1: To What Extent Is Takalani Sesame Making a Difference to the
Children's Learning and Development?

Researchers found that the experimental group's knowledge scores increased significantly between the pre- and post-test, compared to the control group (whose scores were lower on the post-test). Significant learning gains were made in literacy, numeracy, and life skills, regardless of age (see Table 1). Compared with the control group, the experimental groups did better in literacy and life skills; the relatively small gain in numeracy skills was due to the fact that children who were exposed to radio episodes did not show enhanced numeracy skills. Researchers did not find this surprising, given that children were exposed to relatively little numeracy content in the radio programmes.

Table 1. Gains in Numeracy, Literacy, and Life Skills

Experimental Group Control Group
Learning Area Age 3 Age 4 Age 5 Age 6 Total Total
Numeracy +33% +13% +18% +8% +22% +27%
Literacy +18% +21% +19% +20% +21% +11%
Life Skills +25% +27% +20% +67% +26% +10%

The effectiveness of mediation varied depending on the medium and learning area: With television, mediation was most effective for numeracy; with radio, mediation helped in the areas of literacy and life skills.

Research Question 2: Takalani Sesame Is a Tool That Assists Both Teachers and Learners. How Effective Is It an Educational Enhancement or Support for Teachers/Caregivers?

Caregivers who were part of the mediation groups showed shifts from a 'show and tell' teaching methodology to more creative, experiential and interactive teaching methodologies. Most caregivers began to use positive reinforcement and were more creative in using materials - be they provided for caregivers' use or garnered from the surrounding environment - as teaching aids. Caregivers also expressed enthusiasm for the programme and mediation materials, implying that they found them inspirational and 'culturally fair'. Children were more attentive to the episodes of Takalani Sesame when the caregiver was providing mediation."

Research Question 3: How Has Takalani Sesame Impacted on Children's Knowledge of HIV and AIDS, Their Attitudes to People and Affected and Infected by the Disease and Their Own Self-Esteem?

Gains in Knowledge. At pre-test, the experimental group scored considerably lower than the control group on the areas of HIV and AIDS knowledge tested: basic knowledge, blood safety, discrimination, and coping with illness. However, by the post-test, the experimental group showed greater gains on all outcomes: a gain of 28% overall, compared with an increase of 4% for the control group.

Increased Communication. The evaluation also found links between exposure to Takalani Sesame and the extent to which caregivers and/or parents talked about HIV and AIDS in either the classroom or the home. At pre-test, equivalent proportions of caregivers in the experimental (20%) and control (25%) groups spoke about or taught HIV and AIDS in their classrooms. At post-test, more educators in the experimental group (80%) spoke about HIV and AIDS with the children than did those in the control group (48%).

Self-Esteem. Although the concept of self-esteem is not typical of the rural communities where the study took place (where inter-dependence is stressed over individualism), there was a significant increase in the percentage of children in the experimental groups who were able to answer the questions, "What makes you special?" (an increase of 43.6%, compared to 10.1% for the control group) and "What makes you different from someone else?" (an increase of 12.7%, compared to a decline of 21.1% for the control group).

Research Question 4: How Does the Language Use in the Programmes affect Children's Learning?

Takalani Sesame TV and radio programmes are multilingual. Approximately 50% of the TV episodes are in English, with the rest in other official South African languages. Programming for radio was produced in 3 language versions: IsiZulu, IsiXhosa, and Sepedi, each of which featured small proportions of English. Researchers examined the implications of the use of multiple languages on children’s learning.

  • Children responded best when Takalani Sesame was in their home language. However, the parents and caregivers were appreciative of English elements of the programme, suggesting that they desired that their children speak English.
  • Parents reported gains in fluency, vocabulary, sentence construction, story-telling ability, and the quality of communication in children's use of their home language, especially among those in the TV group. Caregivers reported similar gains in vocabulary and fluency in children's use of their home language.
  • Exposure to Takalani Sesame was associated with increased use of English, both at home and in the classroom.
  • The delivery of numeracy messages in the home language appears to be particularly crucial for achieving learning outcomes. In contrast, the literacy and life skills outcomes do not appear to be as affected by the programmes' language use.
  • Caregivers and parents reported an increase in English use in the classroom and at home. Use of other languages (i.e., languages other than English and the home language) decreased if children received mediation (which were always in the home language). Parents and caregivers reported improved vocabulary and pronunciation of new languages.
  • Both direct (content-related) and incidental learning increased as a result of Takalani Sesame.


The research team provided the following recommendations to improve the effectiveness of Takalani Sesame:

Recommendations for improved parent and caregiver involvement:

Because children receive relatively little support for learning at home, the following recommendations are aimed at increasing the ability and desire of parents to become involved in their children’s learning.

  • Adopt an approach that more actively involves parents and caregivers in the learning process;
  • Implement a parent education and awareness campaign regarding the benefits of
    parental involvement, particularly by reading with children at home;
  • Develop an adult basic education curriculum for Takalani Sesame that can seamlessly
    integrate with the existing ECD curriculum;
  • Develop cost-effective Takalani Sesame support materials such as newspaper pullouts for learners, parents and caregivers;
  • Model effective parent engagement on future Takalani Sesame episodes;
  • Provide activities and materials that encourage parent-child interactions in the home; and,
  • Draw on the finding that exposure to Takalani Sesame was linked to positive changes in caregivers' teaching methods and interactions with children, adapting such a process for parents to foster positive, interactive exchanges with their children.

Recommendations to improve learning:

  • In order for older children (6-year-olds) to continue to benefit from Takalani Sesame, it may be helpful to Implement a more challenging numeracy curriculum (including basic addition, subtraction, etc.); and,
  • Include additional activities to foster creativity in children.

Recommendations regarding learning programmes:

  • Use social modeling to bolster learning of life skills content where learner performance was weaker, such as problem solving, exercise, sounds, etc.
  • Evaluators found that Takalani Sesame has made use of several effective ways of encouraging learning, such as repetition, multilingualism, silent animation, and story telling. These approaches were used particularly well to address counting and alphabet learning; they could be expanded to encompass other learning outcomes; and,
  • There is room for improvement among both children and adults in knowledge, attitudes, and skills regarding HIV and AIDS, particularly those pertaining to stigma surrounding the disease.

Recommendations regarding language use:

  • Implement a language strategy that focuses on the three primary African languages (isiZulu, seSotho and isiXhosa), and English. This may help to improve children's understanding of, and attentiveness to, the programme.

For further information, please contact Sesame Workshop at the contact details below.


Email from June Lee to The Communication Initiative on August 17 2005 and July 24 2008.