Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Fifth-graders, in Palo Alto, California, doing their math lesson, sit at their desks staring at the blackboard on the TV monitor. They're watching a cursor that writes out the numbers and listening to the voice that says," Get rid of the percent sign -- just move the decimal sign two places to the left."

Seven-thousand miles away, in Accra, Ghana, practically the other side of the world, a class is watching TV and studying logarithms.

They are looking at Salam Khan's videos. Students don't see Kahn they just hear his energetic, but patient voice.

Who is he? Why are so many schools, teachers, students, even BA and MA graduates visiting KHAN ACADEMY ONLINE? This donation-funded, non-profit Academy has 3,250 videos that are currently used by 16 California schools and 2,000 schools around the U.S. The lectures and tests are in 16 foreign languages.

How many people visit KHAN ACADEMY? The videos aren't Lady Gaga viral, but about 675,000 viewers watched Khan's 18-minute discourse on cell metabolism -- that's a lot of hits.

Checking him out -- getting links to articles about his height and latest girl friend -- I discovered his name is the same as a hot leading movie actor in India, but the founder of the Academy
is a fairly ordinary guy from Louisiana who fell in love with Math.

After high school, Khan went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and to Harvard Business school. MBA in hand, he worked as an analyst for a small hedge fund company, until his cousin asked him to help her with her algebra homework. Using Yahoo "Doodle" diagrams, he made her a video on YouTube.

"I was dismissive," Khan says. "YouTube is for cats playing pianos, not serious mathematicians." But his videos for his cousin started getting feedback, like "I've learned more in the past three hours on YouTube than I have in three years of math class."

Khan quit his job and made more videos -- more and more, on various subjects, in a converted closet in his home. Eventually Bill Gates contacted him, and gave him a $1 5 million grant. Then Google, Netflix, and others gave him grants.

Khan currently has 32 employees. His Academy, according to Wikipedia, is the largest "learning experiment" in the nation. Visiting KHAN ACADEMY -- wow -- there were videos for history, humanities, math, science, and physics, and hundreds of videos within each category -- a huge body of information.

It took me quite a while to figure out what to do -- to click "search," click "watch" -- find a small box at the bottom and click "browse all contents." Then -- holy smoke -- I saw in alphabetical order an extremely long list. I tried "modern dance," got nothing, and realized I needed to search "Humanities," which was a long list. I tried "History," then, "civil war" -- got another endless list; I tried "fractions," and picked the video titled "fractions into decimals."

I liked the video, but gee, if I've got a math question I get up from my chair, walk 15 steps and, in the other office, ask my husband, John Cullum. He knows how to handle basic math stuff. Most of what I've learned about math, history, and the humanities, has faded. My brain is already over loaded with tech routines.

The KHAN ACADEMY -- whew -- finding the right words to search for -- all those black screens -- that white cursor flying around like a crazed bird -- facts, facts, words, different colored numbers on black ...

T.S. Elliot comes to mind "... this is the way the world ends ..."

Oh dear, in between fancy, wild, ridiculous ads, will we be eating, romancing, recreating, and learning everything on YouTube?

Here's a link to KHAN ACADEMY. Before you visit it, take a look at this video.


Carola said...

It's not something that either you or I can relate to. But, it could bring down the costs of education, and if it allows the schools to provide more personal attention if some of their responsibilities are automated - it's probably a good thing. Certainly for adult education: I have a good friend who never went to college and is now studying physics and calculus by video. And he's really learning it!!

OR said...

This is great for children who are scared of Maths (as I used to be once); and for children who are bullied at school and so are afraid to go. Well done Mr Khan and it's so decent of Bill Gates to sponsor him.

I hope I do not sound racist but I have to say that from what I have seen throughout my life, that Asians are more clever than others in the 'Science' department. They appear to be better at computers, math, science (medicine, too) and so on.

Gee, I hope I haven't offended anyone by that remark. It is meant as a compliment to Asians. Here In the UK we have more Indian and Chinese (Asians) Doctors and Academics than whites. May God bless them!

And as you can see, China and India are the two emerging nations on the world front now. It would appear that at long last, they are using their intellect to build their respective nations, rather than bleeding them dry, as the few elites in their countries did years gone by.

Unknown said...

I think this is fantastic and opens up a million possibilities.

Unknown said...

Very interesting. As luck would have it, my youngest child (A gift from God that we were given late lol) is 11 and in the fifth grade. He would probably learn from this. Kids LOVE everything technical. They believe the answers to most of life's questions can be googled or found on YouTube. I'm going to have him look at one of these tomorrow and see what he retains, as an experiment. (We're in Australia, it's late and he's asleep now). Thanks for sharing this Em :)

Pete said...

Jesus H. Christ!

I really appreciate your making me aware of Kahn Academy, Em. Now all I need's some time, I might become educated. I spent about 2 hours there yesterday after I read your BLOG post.

Made me stop and think about all the time I wasted in my youth listening to boring educators ramble on about things that obviously bored them to death. And to think, I was paying good $$$ for the privilege.

It's an ever changing world in which we live.

Pete said...

PS from Pete Slidell:

You have to know that all over the world, there are complacent educators trembling in their boots.

There they sit. They have tenure. They have a union. They get paid very well. They have it arranged so that assistants teach a lot of their classes, and all they have to do is sit on their fat asses, look intellectual, and think deep thoughts.

And here's this guy's doing a fantastic job of teaching… and he's giving it away for free.

Wonder how long it will take for the educational system to wake up.

E. P. Vaughn said...

After I read your piece about Kahn Academy, I spent some time exploring their site. Totally amazing! When I let myself think about all the negative things going on in our world today, I get depressed and scared. And then there's Kahn. What a wonderful thing!

It was a financial struggle for us when my two kids were in college. There were no HOPE scholarships in those days, and tuition and living expenses came out of family cash flow. Both kids had part time jobs, but it was still a struggle.

I'll never forget the anger I felt when they told me about professors cancelling classes, sending teaching assistants to do their job, or sitting in a class of 200 and watching the exalted professor on a TV monitor.

Wake up boys―the peasants will be revolting soon.

Anonymous said...

I've seen this on the internet. I think it's great!
Like the old sci fi/fantasy stories, where the children learn from a professor in an interactive machine.
Louise Sorensen
louise3anne twitter