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Children’s education has always been a major focus in our society. The standard form of educating children is through school: teachers, resources, textbooks. This method is somewhat ‘set in stone’ as a reliable method for children’s education. With the ongoing advancements of technology, though, the ways in which we educate our youth are becoming broader and at the same time, more complex. Since the invention and normalization of televisions in the 20th century, children’s TV shows have been a popular way to teach young children about basic skills and knowledge, either before or during their time in school. With this method of teaching comes another level of difficulty that educators are still learning more about with each passing day. The objective of educating children differs greatly depending on its genre (in this case, textbooks vs. television), but still has the ultimate goal of informing and strengthening the future generations for us as a people.
Textbooks have one focus when written: to educate. Textbooks for children have to sometimes take alternate routes when educating (compared to standard textbooks) in order to reach their objective. Children have a core education that they must obtain before advancing in school, whether or not they particularly care for the subject; this puts a responsibility on textbook authors to make the information they publish not only informational, but engaging. This boils down to what’s in the book, along with its exterior. Children’s textbooks are visually colorful on the outside and also include a variety of illustrations on the inside, depending on the subject. Even when an illustration is not necessary, authors may include information in a visual form to appeal to their audience. This image provided is an example of the cover of a children’s textbook. Rather than getting straight to the point of the topics in the book, the author asks the question, “What’s Science all about?” to interest the young readers. There are also multiple illustrations on the cover, and assumably more illustrations inside with the text. The appearance of the book greatly influences how the audience will respond to it because the audience is children, who are attracted to fun, bright colors.
Educational TV shows for children have two focuses, whereas textbooks only have one: they must not only educate, but entertain as well. Kids watch television to be entertained and to avoid the textbook that is waiting for them at their desk. If a child knew a show’s objective was to teach, would she choose that show, or a completely comedic cartoon? This is where the genre gets complicated for writers and producers. Unlike textbooks, which focus strictly on educating with facts and a little bit of fun, TV shows must be mainly fun with some intertwined education. One of the most successful producers of educational children’s TV is the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). In 2014, a national survey was conducted to see how children are being prepared for school, and “nearly two-thirds (63%) [reported] that PBS KIDS ‘helps a lot’ to prepare kids for school” (PBS). PBS Kids has shown a variety of children’s programs that relate to languages, reading, nature, etcetera. I personally watched many PBS Kids shows as a child, and did not catch on to the education factor of it until years later. Finding the balance between entertainment and education is crucial to making any educational TV show successful.
Both genres share the fundamentals needed in order to properly educate children: language, math, sciences, etc., but their methods of presentation vary. Children are for the most part required to obtain formal education through resources like textbooks, so textbooks stick to a formal, standard form educating. Television shows, contrastly, have a broader horizon to work in with more tools and opportunities for expansion. One of the biggest children’s television empires is Sesame Street. Since its premiere in 1969, it has been accredited with numerous educational successes in youths both nationally and internationally: “It was the country’s first explicitly educational children’s program” (Washington Post). I refer to it as an empire because of its expansion around the world, and its transformation into toys, books, spin-off shows, etcetera. Its usage of bright colors and characters appeal visually to a young audience, and the creators have spent the last 40+ years using a similar, successful format to educate. Sesame Street has managed to convert is original television base into a textual form, as shown in this image. This breaking of the barriers between formal and televised education also helps appeal to the audience, because what is seen on TV can now be read at home, or even in a classroom. Less renowned educational shows face a more difficult task in becoming relevant and impactful; they must adjust to the ever-evolving society and find a way to compete with shows like Sesame Street.
Despite their solidarity due to decades of practice, evolving technology challenges both textbooks and TV shows in their ways of educating. Textbooks are being transformed into e-books, or audiobooks, and thus the visual appeal of the cover or illustrations is either altered or completely erased. Society is always changing to where TV shows have to change too: topics that were once okay to discuss, or methods of discussing topics could now be considered inappropriate (i.e. racially offensive) or just simply outdated. Writers and producers have to adapt in order to stay relevant.
Educating children has and will always be an important part of the development of society. From the stone age to the new age of technology, the methods of education may change, but the objective stays the same. Our fast-paced society calls for nothing less than constant evolution in our constructs; if we kept education the same as it was even 50 years ago, we would not grow. Educating through schools and textbooks may be a classic form of teaching, but even so, it is subject to change along with everything else. In its changing, though, it must keep the same characteristics (more or less) to appeal to its young audience. The same goes for television, which is a more recent form of teaching, but changes just as quickly – maybe even more so – than formal education must. Both methods must have their focus on appealing to children and how they change with society. So far, they have been successful and our youth is only getting smarter and more resourceful, but there is still a world of opportunity in the children’s education department for a new genre to surface.
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