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NYU Steinhardt to Lead Research on Refugee Child Development Through $100 Million Grant Awarded to Sesame Workshop & International Rescue Committee


Led by NYU Steinhardt professor Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Global TIES for Children will implement an evidence-based research and evaluation program to measure the success of Sesame and IRC’s educational work supporting children and families in the Middle East.

Sesame Street Muppets helping refugee children
Image Courtesy: Sesame Workshop/Ryan Heffernan

Global TIES for Children, an international research center at NYU Steinhardt dedicated to improving the lives of youth in the most vulnerable regions across the globe, will lead research on young children’s development in humanitarian settings through a unique partnership with Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Sesame and IRC received a $100 million grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to educate young children displaced by conflict and persecution in the Middle East.

Led by NYU Steinhardt professor Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Global TIES for Children will implement an evidence-based research and evaluation program to measure the success of Sesame Workshop and IRC’s educational work supporting children and families in the Middle East.

“We are excited by this historic opportunity to build the science of early childhood development in humanitarian settings,” said Yoshikawa, the Courtney Sale Ross University Professor of Globalization and Education at NYU Steinhardt and co-director of Global TIES. “These two extraordinary organizations will provide science-based, innovative programming to the largest single refugee population in the world. We will work with Sesame, the IRC and local partners to measure the effects of the programs on children’s learning and development across these diverse cultural and country contexts.”

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Sesame Workshop and IRC created its early childhood development intervention program with the goal of addressing the “toxic stress” experienced by children in the Syrian refugee response region – Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria. The educational components of the program, designed in consultation with local child development and curriculum experts, will build both breadth and depth of services:

Breadth Through New Sesame Content: Delivered through television, mobile phones, digital platforms, and direct services in homes communities, culturally tailored Sesame programming will help provide an estimated 9.4 million young children the language, reading, math and socio-emotional skills they need to succeed in school and later in life. Embedded in the content, Sesame’s Muppets will model inclusion, respect, and gender equity, and provide engaging educational messages, always from a child's perspective. All content that is created will ultimately be publicly available at no cost.


Depth Through Home Visits and Learning Centers: Direct services in homes and centers will reach 1.5 million of the most vulnerable children. Home visits and caregiving support sessions will connect trained local outreach and community health workers to 800,000 caregivers. Home visits will promote caregiver’s capacities to provide nurturing care for early learning, well-being and resilience. The content will engage families through culturally anchored storybooks and picture books, parent brochures, caregiver guides, toys, developmentally appropriate games, digital content and parenting resources via mobile devices.


• Sesame and IRC will transform community sites, formal and informal schools and other points of aid into Child Development Centers. Centers will be equipped with storybooks, video clips on pre-loaded projectors, activity sheets, and rich professional development for teachers to enable age-appropriate, play-based learning.

The $100 million, five-year grant was awarded to Sesame and IRC through 100&Change, MacArthur’s global competition for bold solutions to critical problems of our time. NYU Steinhardt and Global TIES bring a critical perspective to this partnership through deep expertise in developing and evaluating programs for children in low-income and conflict-affected countries and a dedication to positive social change.

“This is a perfect example of our commitment to evidence-based innovation at Steinhardt,” said Dominic Brewer, the Gale and Ira Drukier dean of NYU Steinhardt. “Our global partnerships, combined with leading-edge research into education and child development, led by Hiro and Global TIES Co-Director J. Lawrence Aber, will inform this project and help scale it to serve generations of refugee children with little education and severe trauma.”

Sesame Street Muppets educated refugee children in the Middle East

Image Courtesy: Sesame Workshop/Parisa Azadi

“We’re thrilled to partner with NYU Steinhardt’s Global TIES for Children research center, as they lead the effort to bring the best science in child development, measurement, and independent evaluation to bear on this historic initative,” said Sherrie Westin, executive vice president of global impact at Sesame Workshop.

Sesame Workshop has a long record of developing local versions of cultural and educational programing, Sesame Street, in places like Bangladesh, India, Afghanistan and South Africa, while the IRC brings its long and deep engagement in over 30 countries affected by conflict and displacement, including thousands of local community workers in education, health, economic and women’s empowerment, and inclusive services.

“Refugee children have been waiting for a champion and now they have found one,” said David Miliband, president and CEO of the IRC. “This MacArthur grant is a transformational investment that will bring hope and opportunity to a generation of refugee children whose lives have been uprooted by the Syrian crisis, and will create a model for investment in early childhood services around the world. This achievement has only been possible because of the extraordinary teamwork and a unique partnership, including with NYU Global TIES as the independent research partner.”

The research at Global TIES will be led by its Co-Director Yoshikawa, together with Associate Director Alice Wuermli and Co-Director J. Lawrence Aber. Founded in 2015, Global TIES for Children works with leading NGOs (including IRC, one of its strategic partners) and governments to develop and evaluate innovative approaches to enhance child and youth development in low-income and conflict-affected countries. The research center is embedded within NYU’s Institute of Human Development and Social Change and is supported by the University and the NYU Abu Dhabi Research Institute.

About the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development


Located in the heart of Greenwich Village, NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development prepares students for careers in the arts, education, health, media, and psychology. Since its founding in 1890, the Steinhardt School's mission has been to expand human capacity through public service, global collaboration, research, scholarship, and practice. To learn more about NYU Steinhardt, visit steinhardt.nyu.edu.