‘Sesame Street’ creator starts Web site

by Reiji Yoshida

Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization that created the children’s educational TV program “Sesame Street,” has launched a Japanese version of its multilingual educational Web site for children around the world.

Popular “Sesame Street” characters including Elmo, Big Bird and Cookie Monster don’t appear in the virtual world, but Sesame Workshop has created a set of brand-new characters, including green monster Azibo and Athena the Owl.

Via the Web site, called Panwapa, children can explore many countries, learn foreign languages, exchange prepared messages with speakers of other languages and play lots of games, such as treasure hunting.

Kids can create their own avatars by choosing facial parts and costumes, and build a house and invite other members there.

Panwapa is the name of a floating island in the virtual world, and serves as the center of all activities for participants.

The $5 million (¥552 million) Panwapa project, funded by the Merrill Lynch Foundation, is designed to help foster a sense of global citizenship in children aged 4 to 7.

It is also aimed at boosting children’s understanding of differences around the world, including economic disparities, said Sherrie Westin, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Sesame Workshop.

“Our hope is that Panwapa will represent the same innovation for the Internet that ‘Sesame Street’ did for television some 40 years ago,” she said during a news conference earlier this week.

The world has become increasingly interconnected, and children need to understand their circumstances more than ever, she said.

The free online service is offered in English, Japanese, Chinese, Arabic and Spanish, and a total of 200,000 education kits have been prepared for free distribution in the U.S. Britain, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Jordan and Mexico.

As of Thursday, more than 13,100 participants had registered, according to the site, which has no set age limit.

The Web site is www.panwapa.com