Sesame Street headed to the UAE on science mission

Live shows will be combined with activities to stimulate young people's interest in science subjects and spark a love of learning.

Rosita, left, talks to Elmo and his father Louie during an episode of Sesame Street.
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ABU DHABI // Characters from the hit American children's television series Sesame Street are coming to the UAE with a mission to encourage young people to learn more about the wonders of science. Favourites such as Elmo, Bert and Ernie will perform nightly at live shows throughout the holy month of Ramadan as part of "Reach for the Sky", an event which will feature a host of other activities. The Emirates Foundation for Philanthropy and Sesame Workshop, a non-profit organisation that produces educational programmes for children, teamed up for the venture, which is designed to get children passionate about science, maths and technology - focusing on astronomy. The organisers hope up to 1,000 children, aged between four and 14, will visit the event each day. It is being held at Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi, starting on August 12. Behind the fun is a serious message. The organisers want to stimulate children's interest in science subjects and spark a love of learning. The country's development lies in the advancement of core subjects such as science, maths and technology, according to Dr Abdullah Ismail Abdullah, senior adviser to the Emirates Foundation's Science, Technology and Environment Programme. The gap in these fields was vast and the most effective way to reach youngsters was through tools familiar to them, he said. "By bringing Sesame Street characters to teach children, these subjects then become increasingly attractive. They will listen more and therefore learn more," said Dr Ismail. "This is just the beginning. We are in talks with Sesame Street producers about the possibility of forming a long-term agreement that may include future venues and topics." The Emirates Foundation bought the intellectual property rights for the event, which will be held mainly in the Arabic language, though English will also be spoken at times. Robert Knezevic, Sesame Workshop's regional director of international partnerships, said it would be a fun way to introduce the wonders of astronomy, science and space travel. "Many of today's parents grew up with Iftah Ya Simsim (Sesame Street) and we commend the Emirates Foundation for their leadership in reintroducing the project to today's children. Our joint objective is to prepare today's young people with the skills necessary for the 21st century." Along with the live shows, a mini cinema will screen classic episodes of the show, which first aired in November 1969. There will also be a storytime corner and a creation corner, where the children can let their imaginations run wild. Mubadala Aerospace, the event's sponsor, has contributed with the Museum of Flight. The Flying Gizmo Show will use flying toys and models to help children discover the science and history of flight, and the Apollo Moon School will look at rocketry and robotics. Children will also explore the phases of the Moon and its relationship with Arabian months, including Ramadan. Islamic achievements in science and specifically astronomy are also part of the learning and discovery process. Dr Ismail believes the way to strengthen national identity is through educating young children at the earliest opportunity. "We are behind in terms of being part of the leading nations in science and maths," he said."We used to be pioneers but through time we fell behind - even in astronomy, which started as a religious cause for Muslims and Arabs. "Today, we have to continue to open our minds. There is a lot to learn and endless opportunities are being created by the capital city, especially in aerospace, where Abu Dhabi is developing as a leader in technology and development." Homaid al Shemmari, the executive director of Mubadala Aerospace, said the event would give children a taste of future career opportunities in the aerospace industry. On weekdays, shows will start at 9.30pm and finish at midnight. On weekends, they will run from 9.30pm to 1am.