Sal Kahn on his famous online academy


Doors: The way Khan depicts the concept of education and the mechanism of learning is revolutionary.

Is it really? It is clear that Khan became the vehicle for the hopes and dreams of many reformers on how to educate the masses. How Khan sees himself and his academy — which, according to its website, taught 239,373,163 students when I last visited on Tuesday — is a more complicated question.

Khan Academy is a website that offers free video lessons in math, science, and other subjects, such as art history, as well as interactive activities and assessments. As a result of his efforts to help his cousin teach math, the academy now has over 4,000 videos in a variety of subjects. Teachers use the videos in their classroom; students use them at home to complement their teacher’s lesson. Some people like the videos, others say they’re not helpful, and Kahn says he knows they won’t work for everyone. Some mathematicians say some are mathematically flawed, while others say they are not.

“The One World School House” makes it clear that he believes he offers a vision of a new way of educating students. The flap of the book reads: “Free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere: that’s the goal of Khan Academy, a passion project that grew from an online tutoring session from a former engineer and a hedge funder with his niece, who struggled with algebra, at a global project. phenomenon.”

The Khan Academy website says: Khan Academy is an organization on a mission. We are a non-profit organization whose goal is to change education for the better by providing free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere. All resources on the site are accessible to everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re a student, a teacher, a homeschooler, a principal, an adult returning to the classroom after 20 years, or a friendly alien just trying to get a head start in Earth biology. Khan Academy materials and resources are available to you completely free of charge. That’s a pretty bold goal.

Yet in his book and in his conversations, he notes that none of what he advocates – ending lectures, using mastery learning, extending learning time, integrating technology as an essential part of education, eliminating letter grades – is nothing new or original to him.

And although the public perceives Khan Academy as a virtual school, Khan said in an interview, “We will never be a 100% complete education.

“For my children,” he said, “I only see it as a tool.” And, he said he expects his children to go to a traditional brick and mortar where they will receive a holistic education.

Moreover, he takes positions in his book that contradict the worldview of some of his funders’ forays into school reform. Take Gates, for example Gates, through his foundation, has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in teacher evaluation systems that use standardized student test scores in important ways to gauge the effectiveness of a teacher.

In the book and in conversation, Khan says standardized tests are woefully overused in public education. “Suffice it to say, our overreliance on testing is largely based on habit, wishful thinking and leaps of faith.

Given that the Gates Foundation is the biggest funder of Khan Academy (which when we spoke had 36 staff, down from just one – Khan himself – two years ago), I asked Khan if he had already discussed this with Gates. In the five or six conversations he had with Gates, Khan said that was not the case and he “doesn’t have specifics” about what the foundation is doing in terms of funding the school reform.

Should he? It is presumably difficult for someone who calls himself a revolutionary to tell his acolytes to stop saying it, especially when many of them are providing funds to continue the so-called revolution.

Here are some of the things he said that seem to clash with public perception of Khan and his academy.

* His videos make teachers more important not less important, although his promotion of them, although his view of who should teach is controversial. As someone who entered the world of education without teaching or curriculum design credentials, Khan doesn’t believe in traditional teacher licensing.

It’s important, he said, that educators “have a deep understanding or connect with the subject.” Someone with a deep understanding of geometry is therefore qualified to teach the subject. Should these people also, I asked, have knowledge of how to teach effectively and meet the needs of children who learn differently? “That too,” he said in the interview, and noted that he had many teachers and people with a deep understanding of the curriculum working on his team.

Regarding teacher licensing, he wrote in a follow-up email: “On licensing, I think it is up to the people running the school to decide what credentials/licenses best meet their needs.Every school is different and serves different populations.

* Khan Academy is in the “very early stages” of where it wants to go. He said he told the Khan Academy board that he would like to reach 100 million people worldwide. A study with the Gates Foundation (one of its funders) is underway to measure the effectiveness of its videos.

* New technologies have given us “the opportunity to rethink [school] model that we inherited from the Prussians 200 years ago.

* The United States is “unlikely to decline as everyone fears” because it is still the place where entrepreneurship and creativity are rewarded. “Singapore kids who are creative want to come to the United States,” he said.

* International comparisons of student achievement should be considered, but should not be cause for alarm. Comparisons between the United States and smaller countries are not fair, he said; Singapore is a city-state and Finland is a homogeneous country of 5 million people, while the United States is a large, diverse country.

The academy’s latest priorities, he wrote in an email, are:

1. Internationalization of the site (priority to Spanish and Portuguese)
2. Make the site experience more consistent and redesign much of the navigation (including how students progress through subjects). Part of that will be upgrading it with Common Base State Standards.
3. Try to improve our exercises to measure where a student is and help them retain their knowledge.
4. Ways to make videos easier for teachers to use.

Khan’s videos are valuable to many people, and his desire to reach as many people as possible in poor parts of India and other countries is commendable. But technology is only a necessary tool for a true educational revolution, and the hype around Khan suggests a continued need for many Americans to find “the right formula” or the silver bullet that will solve what ails us. There are not any.

How did Khan come to be seen as the savior of education?

According to Khan, he was in just the right place at the right time.

And it really is an excellent commercial.


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