Meet Zeerak, the Newest Afghan Muppet

Sesame Workshop
Sesame Workshop

Sesame Street isn't just an American show—it has co-productions around the world, localized for kids in different countries and cultures. In Afghanistan, Baghch-e-Simsim ("Sesame Garden") just began its sixth season. Last year, the show introduced 6-year-old Zari, the first Afghan Muppet. Now, Baghch-e-Simsim adds its second Afghan Muppet, Zeerak, to its cast.

Zeerak, whose name means "smart" and "talented" in Dari and Pashto, is Zari's younger brother. He's 4 years old. He enjoys painting and playing games, and is just learning to read and count—though he's not going to school just yet. Zeerak marks the first time a male Afghan Muppet has ever existed, and he will likely become a role model for kids in the region. Baghch-e-Simsim is the most-watched TV program among young children in Afghanistan.

Zeerak sits with his older sister Zari. They're reading together.
Zeerak sits with his older sister Zari. They're reading together.
Sesame Workshop

Like Zari, Zeerak has multicolored yarn hair. He's orange, with a purple nose, glasses, and an outfit appropriate to the region. In a press release, the Sesame Workshop explained early interactions between Zeerak and Zari:

In one segment called “Going to School,” Zeerak eagerly awaits Zari’s return from school and is excited to hear about her day. Zari explains that Zeerak will have the opportunity to go to school too someday, and that working hard in school will help him achieve his dreams. Zari encourages Zeerak to think about what he might become when he grows up, and offers to teach him a few lessons before he’s ready to go to school himself.

It's hard to overestimate the impact of this TV show on Afghan children. The Sesame Workshop reports:

...[A]mong children who watch TV, over 80% report watching [Baghch-e-Simsim]; 3.1 million children ages 3-7 are tuning in, up 45% from 2015. And Baghch-e-Simsim isn’t only engaging children—more than 70% of parents and caregivers watch the program alongside children, with Baghch-e-Simsim surpassing other Afghan children’s shows in terms of adult-child co-viewership.

Zeerak is on the show now, and you can catch up on segments via YouTube if you happen not to be in Afghanistan. For a look behind the scenes of the show's production (in English), check out this delightful video in which (among other things) Muppeteers in the US videoconference with their counterparts in Afghanistan. Enjoy:

25 Amazing Ivy League Classes You Can Take Online for Free in 2019

iStock.com/damircudic
iStock.com/damircudic

If you resolved to further your education in 2018, there are plenty of opportunities to do so without leaving home. Free college courses are abundant online, and the convenience doesn't necessarily mean you have to compromise on quality. For the best, tuition-free education the internet has to offer, check out these free Ivy League classes compiled by Quartz.

The eight Ivy League schools—Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale—offer about 396 free, active online courses between them. While many cover conventional subjects, like marketing, computer science, and Greek mythology, there are plenty of unique classes, including options like "Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies" and "The Ethics of Memory."

Many of the courses are self-paced and offer certificates for a fee. That certification may cost between $50 and $100—meaning your class won't technically be free, but it will still be a lot cheaper than attending an in-person lecture at Harvard.

Here are 25 notable free classes being offered by Ivy League universities this year.

1. "Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies" // Princeton University
2. "Artificial Intelligence (AI)" // Columbia University
3. "Animation and CGI Motion" // Columbia University
4. "The Global Financial Crisis" // Yale University
5. "Crowdfunding" // University of Pennsylvania
6. "Viral Marketing and How to Craft Contagious Content" // University of Pennsylvania
7. "Moralities of Everyday Life" // Yale University
8. "The Ancient Greek Hero" // Harvard University
9. "Visualizing Japan (1850s-1930s): Westernization, Protest, Modernity" // Harvard University
10. "American Capitalism: A History" // Cornell University
11. "Science & Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science (Part 1)" // Harvard University
12. "Power and Responsibility: Doing Philosophy with Superheroes" // Harvard University
13. "Super-Earths and Life" // Harvard University
14. "Women Making History: Ten Objects, Many Stories" // Harvard University
15. "Modern Masterpieces of World Literature" // Harvard University
16. "The Ethics of Memory" // Brown University
17. "Buddhism and Modern Psychology" // Princeton University
18. "Designing Cities" // University of Pennsylvania
19. "America’s Written Constitution" // Yale University
20. "Lessons from Ebola: Preventing the Next Pandemic" // Harvard University
21. "The History of Medieval Medicine Through Jewish Manuscripts" // University of Pennsylvania
22. "The Science of Well-Being" // Yale University
23. "Everyday Parenting: The ABCs of Child Rearing" // Yale University
24. "Introduction to Italian Opera" // Dartmouth University
25. "Music and Social Action" // Yale University

You can find more free online offerings from the Ivys and other top schools at Class Central.

[h/t Quartz]

Ohio Is the Latest State to Reinstate Cursive in the Classroom

iStock.com/PeopleImages
iStock.com/PeopleImages

Many people have strong opinions on cursive, whether because they use it everyday or resent their elementary school teachers for wasting their time teaching it to them. In the wake of many schools abandoning teaching cursive writing in the classroom, legislators in Ohio recently took a strong stance in favor of the handwriting style: Beginning in kindergarten, students in the state will now learn to write in cursive in addition to print, WKRC reports.

On Wednesday, December 19, Governor John Kasich signed a bill mandating a cursive curriculum throughout elementary schools in Ohio. The course is optional for teachers, but students will now be required to write cursive legibly by the time they leave fifth grade. The same curriculum also makes it so that students must learn to print letters properly by the end of third grade.

Ohio's decision is part of a larger trend of schools bringing back cursive following a nationwide backlash. Once thought to boost the developmental benefits that come with writing by hand, research has shown that learning cursive isn't uniquely beneficial, and it may even slow down the learning process because it's more complex than regular manuscript. And as computers have become ubiquitous, cursive lessons have taken a backseat to typing in many school systems.

But cursive still has its champions: Linking letters together to create "whole" words promotes clearer, more complete thinking, according to cursive supporters. And even in today's digital world, knowing cursive has its uses, from reading historical documents to signing one's name.

Ohio joins more than a dozen U.S. states that have reinstated cursive lessons in classrooms. In just the past few years alone, Alabama, Louisiana, and New York City—the largest public school system in America—have all once again made cursive part of their curriculums.

[h/t WKRC]

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