WINTER 2000/01
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kid's tv for preventing violence


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A consortium of television and conflict-resolution experts recently started an educational project that encourages inter cultural respect and understanding among the children of Macedonia. After only one brief season, research shows that a children's television series has begun to make real inroads into overcoming deep-seated prejudices and stereotypes.

Developed for kids ages 7-12, Nashe Maalo ("Our Neighbourhood" in Macedonian) is a dramatic TV series first produced during the Kosovo crisis in 1999, and broadcast as eight half-hour episodes starting in October 1999. Now in its second season, Nashe Maalo's producers are striving to balance clearly researched curricular goals with the elements that make a children's TV series successful: that it grabs kids' imaginations, is entertaining, and makes the kids want to see more. Co-produced by Search for Common Ground in Macedonia (SCGM), Common Ground Productions (CGP), and developed in association with Sesame Workshop, the series is the product of a collaboration between experts in children's television production and a team of research and content specialists with extensive experience in the Balkan region.

While Macedonia is the only component of former Yugoslavia that has not seen blood shed within its borders in recent years, conflicts such as the recent war over Kosovo have dealt a hard blow to Macedonia's economy and its internal inter ethnic relations. Two thirds of Macedonia's population is ethnic Macedonian, with the remainder comprising ethnic Albanians (23%), Turks (4%). and several smaller groups, including Roma, at 2% each. They tend to lead lives rigidly, if voluntarily, segregated by language, residence, and education, and interact with each other only on a superficial level. Nashe Maalo is a central element of SCGM's systematic approach to building tolerance and understanding across these barriers in this emerging democracy.

Grounded in Research
The show features five children of Albanian, Macedonian, Roma and Turkish backgrounds who live in an imaginary apartment building in Skopje. These kids share a secret that binds them together - the building they live in is alive! Her name is Karmen and, in addition to being the kids' confidante and friend, she possesses a power: She can magically transport them into their neighbours' cultural and psychological milieus. These scenes open the eyes of our characters to other people's ways of thinking and living.

While this is one of the first enterprises of its kind - a television series for children aged 7-12 designed specifically to promote tolerance among children in a multi-ethnic society- it is based on Sesame Workshop's experience in creating children's programming during the past 30 years. Measurable research of the series' impact is central to the project design. In formative stages of the series, researchers and conflict-resolution experts outlined desired outcomes for the series. A curriculum emerged that was used for both pre-broadcast base-line research and for summative research documenting children's responses to the pilot season of the series.

Children's Responses
A pilot study of one episode of the series showed that children demonstrated a high level of engagement with the program. A viewership survey during the first broadcast season of Nashe Maalo showed that the program was very popular among children, both with respect to the viewership rate (75% of all children in the country) and positive response rates: the overwhelming majority of children watching rated it as good or excellent.

To examine the impact of the series over the course of several months, researchers interviewed 240 children at eight schools in the Skopje region - sixty 10-year-olds from each of the four ethnic groups - before and after viewing videotaped versions of the series. This study began before the TV series went on the air. Prior to viewing, many children demonstrated negative, stereotyped perceptions of members of other ethnic groups than their own. After viewing, more children showed positive perceptions. For example, there was a significant increase among ethnic Macedonian children who after viewing said they were willing to invite a child from the ethnic Albanian, Roma, and Turkish groups to their home. Another finding was that after viewing, recognition of minority languages had improved across all ethnic groups, and most dramatically among ethnic Macedonian children (the ethnic majority group).
Wider Implications

The implications of the series go far beyond the borders of Macedonia as a potential tool to complement violence-prevention efforts by international peace negotiators. Common Ground Productions is now investigating ways in which the model can be used in Cyprus and in Lebanon.

Lisa Schocht



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