Though you may have heard his voice, you probably haven’t seen the face of Sal Khan, a teacher who specializes in bringing math, science, and history to his students via the Khan Academy. Millions of pupils study with Khan a month through the free tutoring site he created in 1994 to help sort out his cousin’s problems with algebra, though he hasn’t met a single one in person.
Khan’s approach to education has recently entered the American school system as a prospective method for educational reform. And though the United States is catching on, the 35 year old believes that his website can revolutionize the way that citizens world over are taught. He now has vocal support from Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google, and billionaire and Microsoft genius Bill Gates.
His philosophy is simple and noble: he seeks to provide a free and comprehensive education to anyone, anywhere in the world. Khan started with his cousin Nadia when he agreed to tutor her though she lived in New Orleans. He has since recorded his tutoring and posted the videos to YouTube.
Response has been phenomenal…
Khan reports that he receives encouraging feedback from total strangers who feel that their child was able to finally understand difficult concepts or subjects that had them stymied after they attended his Academy. Finally, in 2009, Khan was convinced to quit his job as a hedge fund analyst so he could turn his complete attention to the Academy.
Since then, Khan has uploaded over three thousand lessons. His powerful methods attracted the attention of Bill Gates, who has used Khan’s system to tutor his own children. Along with Google, Gates provided Khan with fifteen million dollars that he has used to oversee the development of software that he hopes will change the way that students learn math.
For now, a free app for iPads has been released to iTunes that gives those who download it free access to the Academy’s entire library of lessons. Eric Schmidt has spoken proudly of Khan’s accomplishments, claiming that they will change the face of education forever.
Distance learning has been a hot button topic for educators for many years. As more students gained access to the internet, and as the internet became a viable tool to use on a growing amount of handheld devices, more and more colleges and universities began to offer degrees that could be completed in every aspect via computer. Interested in pursuing a masters in criminal justice? Do it online!
But what are the drawbacks? Many students report that they don’t feel as connected to their online teachers or the material they are supposed to be learning. After all, the most successful teachers are usually the most passionate or energetic. And passion and energy are difficult to convey, even if the student is watching a video.
However, the success of Khan’s Academy suggests that maybe Sal Khan has found a way around roadblocks that have set back previous attempts at distance learning. As Google’s Schmidt has pointed out, true and lasting change doesn’t usually come from established institutions – it takes someone with vision. Perhaps Khan’s vision will be the one that completely overhauls the face of American education as we know it.
Thanks to Evan Fischer for this quest post. He is a freelance writer and part-time student at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California.