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Beginning in December, the Learning Channel will jump into a programming area long dominated by the Public Broadcasting Service's "Sesame Street.'' The cable channel is planning a six-hour-per-weekday block of programming for preschool children.

The channel's "Ready, Set, Learn!'' block was inspired by a report on school readiness from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The 1991 report called for the development of a television channel or service dedicated to preschool children as a step toward achieving the national education goal that by 2000 all children will "come to school ready to learn.''

The Learning Channel's new service will air from 6 A.M. to noon Eastern time each weekday, beginning Dec. 28. The "Ready, Set, Learn!'' block will consist of six half-hour shows that will be repeated within that six-hour time period. Like "Sesame Street'' and other PBS educational shows, the Learning Channel programming will appear without commercials.

Company officials say the channel will finance the programming, with distribution funded by cable operators. Eventually, the channel hopes to attract corporate and foundation underwriters who would be given time for brief recognition on the broadcasts, as is done on PBS.

The learning block will be hosted by the children's singer Rory and will include such shows as "The Magic Box'' and "Bookmice,'' both about reading; "Kitty Cats,'' about problem-solving; and "Zoobilee Zoo,'' a show about creativity that previously appeared on PBS.

The Learning Channel is owned by Discovery Communications, which also operates the Discovery Channel. The Learning Channel is currently available in approximately 17 million homes that subscribe to cable.

The Carnegie report's call for more educational programming for preschool children is also getting a response in Congress.

Last month, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the committee that oversees education programs, introduced the "ready to learn television act of 1992.''

The bill would create a "ready to learn'' channel on a new public-broadcasting satellite that will be launched next year. It would also provide the U.S. Secretary of Education with the authority to award grants for the production and distribution of educational programming and videos for preschool children, as well as training materials for parents and child-care providers. The bill would authorize $50 million for these and other provisions for fiscal 1993.

"Television has the capability to be a remarkable teacher,'' Senator Kennedy said at an Aug. 5 hearing on the bill.--M.W.

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