For many students across the world today, Khan Academy has been a go-to learning resource for a long time now. But in 2003, when hedge fund analyst Salman ‘Sal’ Khan, uploaded a YouTube video to tutor his niece Nadia in Math, little did he know that it would trigger the creation of one of the biggest online schools in the world. Growing up in New Orleans he was put into a ‘gifted students’ program at the age of 7 where he was given the opportunity to focus and build his knowledge in a completely different way to students in a traditional school environment.
He credits his unconventional outlook towards education to the flexible nature of this course and the teachers who fostered his interests from a young age. He went on to accumulate a staggering number of academic qualifications including three Bachelor of Science degrees in Mathematics, Electrical Engineering, and Computer Science follow by a Masters of Science in electrical engineering and computer science all from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology—to top it off he also has an MBA degree from Harvard Business School. It is this impressive line-up that gave him the extensive knowledge base that became the foundation of the Khan Academy videos.
His dream was simple. He wanted to create a teaching method by which students could learn at their own pace, where they could review topics as many times as they needed without feeling judged and where they could target the specific areas in which they felt they needed help. In the beginning, the videos were unadorned and basic, just him and some uncomplicated diagrams on a digital blackboard, a theme he’s tried to maintain over the years because he feels that his students appreciate the human element he brings. He also insists on teaching without extravagant graphics and distraction tactics so his students don’t feel any kind of condescension.
After his first videos went up, he realised that more and more people were starting to watch and his following was rapidly growing. In the YouTube comments he met his first students, people who had been stuck on certain topics for years and had been too embarrassed to ask for help, people with learning difficulties who had all but given up on learning Maths and even some teachers who proposed implementing his methods in the classroom.
In 2008, he registered Khan Academy as a Non-profit Organisation and threw his weight into making it a legitimate online school. Khan used his free time to keep churning out videos, but by 2009, he had left his job and the following years were spent building ‘Khan Academy’ as a full-fledged enterprise. With help and support from a small team, he began making videos on a range of topics—basic to advanced Maths, Physics, Cosmology, History, Chemistry and many others. He believed that even the most advanced students had gaps in their knowledge—even a child getting 95 percent had an area of 5 percent where he or she was unsure and when those small gaps in fundamental concepts accumulated it could seriously hurt the child’s grades and learning in the future. By creating Khan Academy, he ensured that students could identify and work on their problem areas, and eventually ensure a rounded and complete education.
As they expanded their operations, Khan received many offers to monetise his project but he realised he didn’t want to be boxed in by worrying about target audiences or marketing strategies, and thus his true mission was born, one of “Providing a free, world class education to anyone, anywhere.”
When his system was implemented into schools in and around California, they found that the average grades went through a substantial jump, which made Khan think about new ways his organisation could improve world teaching. A few years ago he decided that although Khan Academy was showing tremendous results, it was no longer sufficient to for it to be a supplement to traditional teaching, and thus, in 2012 the concept of The One World Schoolhouse was born. For decades, people have been trying to reinvent the school system but Khan believes that the onset of the ‘tech revolution’ is what was needed to make the movement a reality, and in his book Khan outlined his dream for the ideal school environment. His new structure sounds like the fantasy of every schoolchild across the world—no homework, no grades, no fixed schedules or age-defined classes. Condemning the conventional approach of teaching all students the same thing at the same time he envisioned a world where every student could progress at their own pace and learn according to their strengths.
His Indian heritage made him painfully aware of the situation faced by millions of underprivileged children across the subcontinent that had limited access to a quality education or else were too busy providing for their families to attend traditional schools. This prompted him to make India a priority and create a system by which any child with internet access could take two or three hours out of their day to catch up with the lessons they may not have had time for during the day.
In 2015, Khan Academy started making its first major inroads into India. A multi-million dollar partnership was set up between the organisation, Ratan Tata, and his trusts, with the hope of multiplying the literacy rate of the country many times over. They have set up an Indian portal from where teachers collaborate to create videos in Hindi that are tailored specifically to the Indian education system. Their approach has two stages, the first is to create a thorough catalogue of videos, and the second is aimed at diversifying into regional language in order to hopefully widen their viewership.
With the backing of tech-world heavyweights such as Bill Gates and Google, Khan Academy seems to really be finding its feet and will hopefully continue to share its idyllic methods with the world until their experimental, groundbreaking school system is commonplace the world over. Their Pixar in a Box initiative with Disney is bringing technical, design and production knowledge to the public for free. The students learn the processes behind Pixar movies and how the artists do their jobs and how maths is turned into movies. Khan’s passion to educate is truly a blessing for India, a country that has often struggled with its literacy levels, and the Tata partnership is the first step to a future where all children, irrespective of their backgrounds, will have access to a quality education.
Read more about their initiative with Pixar here.
Take A Look At What This Educational Revolutionary Has To Say About His Project:
Words: Shireen Jamooji