“Bawat bata may tanong. Ba’t ganito? Ba’t gano’n?”
(Every child has a question. Why are things like this? Why are things like that?)
Colorful visuals, informative learning, and interactive dialogue are what viewers are treated to when watching an episode of the 1994 children’s educational television show Sine’skwela. The science-centered program introduced the basics of the subject through television learning, a practice done in order to accommodate a wider audience, making the program unique for its time. Fast forward to today, and the remnants of these shows are making a comeback.
Media plays a big part in opening children’s eyes to the world; the question is what kind of world is being introduced. This is where children’s educational programming comes into play, being the gateway to exploring deeply-rooted beliefs and social mores.
Ba be bi bo bu
Local educational programs for kids, such as Sine’skwela and Hiraya Manawari are often sprinkled with familiar Filipino imagery. “There is a contextualization that would never be replicated by international content; for content creators, it’s the Filipino child that we see,” Knowledge Channel and YeY! channel head Danie Sedilla-Cruz elaborates.
However, compared to international children’s programs, the country hasn’t gotten close to covering socio-political content. As someone who specializes in children and teenagers, psychologist Isabella Coscolluela notes that, “I haven’t seen anything that compares to shows like [Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood] where they tackle more serious issues.”
There’s a fear of creating content deemed too harsh for kids to handle. “When you talk about [socio-political issues] now, it’s so polarizing because [you won’t] be able to [send] your message across without sounding like you’re siding with someone,” Sedilla-Cruz stresses. Despite one’s good intentions to properly educate kids on social issues, there is a preference for more “light-hearted” topics and programs.
What do you see?
The 90s ushered in a golden age of children’s educational programming in the country. Coscolluela cites that these shows “teach [children] how to count and how to read; [discussing] math, science, or sometimes historical or values education.” Programs such as Math-Tinik, Bayani, and others complemented the Department of Education’s curriculum. While cartoonish sets and kitschy characters dazzle children on the other side of the screen, meticulous planning goes into creating the content they see.
A careful production process is done, starting with selecting topics suitable that wouldn’t confuse or frighten children too much. Sedilla-Cruz elaborates, “We do a script committee meeting [for creating shows]. I’m there; the scriptwriters are there; we have a child psychologist there; and if needed, we have a subject matter expert.”
Beyond the bright colors and catchy songs are real-life conundrums. “Understanding more complex concepts of society may be more difficult for [children] to grasp, but it’s also important [given] that they can transition to thinking ‘Oh, there’s a world outside of mine,’” Coscolluela points out. Children eventually realize that the stories onscreen aren’t just make-believe.
Stop, look, and listen
Typically, shows make use of characters and their storylines to integrate issues that reflect qualms in society. In moments where a certain issue becomes too difficult to explain to children, Coscolluela advises that “storytelling would be more appropriate.” Monitoring what children see on screen also poses a challenge. As addressed by Coscolluela, “Exposure is important, especially at a young age and guided by parents [so that] it won’t scare them too much yet.”
At the end of the day, progressive children’s programming can only open the conversation about certain serious topics—parents still have to explain and answer questions children might have after watching. “It should be a conscious effort among parents to make their child aware of what’s happening right now and how things are impacting their lives,” Sedilla-Cruz emphasizes.
Introducing these topics to kids is vital as it is the way for children to face life’s complicated roadblocks. “Media is supplemental because it has to start at home with these kids’ parents,” Cosculluela suggests.
More modern shows have also begun leaning toward a more globally driven mindset. Gerhard Pagunsan, a pioneer cast member of Hi-5 Philippines, lauded the show’s “message of inclusion and part in the progress of the global village.” As part of the multinational franchise, the show aims to promote diversity to younger audiences. Coscolluela, meanwhile, highlighted the early 2000s program 5 and Up for their feature on Asian-Americans and racism in the local context.
Till next time!
“It’s very easy to say [that you’ll produce a program], but a lot of things come into play when you make an episode,” Sedilla-Cruz admits. Despite the reluctance of networks in showcasing socio-political topics in children’s educational programming, hope is still high that the tide will turn. Sedilla-Cruz adds, “At the end of the day, it [boils] down to the capacity of the [production team] to be able to craft [the intended] message in order for it to be effective.”
These colorful characters and sing-song dialogues that permeate Filipino children’s formative years are a powerful force that can shape the minds of the new generation. Though sometimes treated as fragile and naive, children surprise adults with their capability to show a nuanced understanding of the world.