My formative years were spent in a Jesuit institution in Darjeeling. It was under the tutelage of Jesuits that I developed an interest in all things educational. I remember not only learning to grapple with the intricacies of different subjects but also how our teachers regularly accompanied us as we grew into adulthood. They mentored us and gave us a worldview with which we were able to cope with whatever came our way in our journey through life.
After school, college was an anti-climax. The lectures were one size fits all and we found ourselves doodling the time away, passing notes and making plans for after class. Just before the exams, we mugged frantically so as to pass. Later, I found that most schools too fell in this category.
Things have changed in the 21st century. Take the Khan Academy, an online library with a difference. Started by Salman Khan aka Sol Khan, a former student of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Harvard MBA, the mission of his “not-for-profit Khan Academy is to deliver world-class education to anyone anywhere”. The site, www.khanacademy.org, has 3,200 videos on subjects such as maths, science, economics and humanities and online lectures on almost all subjects. Students can attempt the practice exercises and refer back to the video if they face difficulties. There are even tutorials for SAT, GMAT and JEE.
The content of each subject is very interesting. For example, they just don’t teach you how to solve equations in algebra but start with videos exploring why algebra was developed and how it helps us explain the world.It goes on to conceptual videos and then to worked examples starting from the basics to higher algebra. Another video teaches about curves and graphs with doodles involving snakes and ropes.
Consider this scenario: kids in a classroom solve problems at their own pace using a computer program that gives them instant feedback. They can pause and rewind the short video lectures again and again till they learn how to solve the problem. They take a test, get rewarded for getting all their answers correct and then move on. Add to it the fun of earning badges, which can become a game of who earns the maximum. It is bound to make progress rapid. The computer program is the Khan Academy. The technique they use is called “mastery based learning”.
This idea was sparked while the 35-year-old Khan was helping his teenage cousin with her algebra. Soon he replaced his explanations over the phone with videos. He saw how this could help other students so he started taping lectures on other subjects as well. While explaining, he does extensive board work to illustrate his point. He uses the same technique to illustrate history lessons and explain concepts and events with the help of maps and other drawings.
Khan Academy now has an app for the iPad, which you can download for free from the iTunes store. It includes downloadable video, which you can watch offline. There are several free apps, categorised subject wise, for the iPhone. This app is also available on Android devices.
Khan Academy’s free online educational videos are moving into classrooms across the world with the backing of Bill Gates and Google. Their goal is to revolutionise how we teach and learn. Time magazine has named Khan one of the 100 most influential men in the world. So is this going to be the future of education?
“True learning is about having curiosity and questioning everything. Learning does not occur just because someone comes up with a novel way to package it,” says an experienced teacher. However, Khan Academy lectures are lucid, brief and so interesting that anyone, even a child, can understand them. And they are also a great refresher course for teachers.