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Khan Academy makes studies interesting: Salman Khan

The founder and CEO of the US-based Khan academy tells us why they launched their Hindi e-learning website in India and how his tutorials can improve scope of discussion in classrooms and supercharge students' knowledge

Written by Neeti Nigam | Updated: December 7, 2015 1:18:47 pm
Sal Khan7 Salman Khan is the founder and CEO of the US-based Khan academy

He might not have the kind of fan following that Bollywood actor Salman Khan commands but he is definitely the most-watched tutor in the world. Meet Salman Khan, the founder of non-profitable e-learning website that aims to educate millions across the world, free of cost.

Salman Khan (better known as Sal Khan) was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, and graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1998. He earned his MBA at Harvard Business School. While helping his cousin Nadia to solve maths, a lot of other students started seeking help. He made a web software to communicate better. He noticed most learners’ basic science and maths are not clear and therefore they are afraid of these subjects. To simplify the theories and on a friend’s recommendation, Khan started creating videos at home.

When his educational videos found viewership, Khan realised his true calling was academics. He left his lucrative job and started posting videos on YouTube that became an instant hit. But he got major boost when Microsoft founder Bill Gates said that he uses Khan’s videos to teach his children and later granted funds. The academy then also received support from other corporate houses, including Google. In India, they are in talk with the Tata Trusts and other corporate houses.

What made his videos unique are its interactive approach added with a dash of humour. He aims to educate 450 million children in India in the next 10 years. He has also figured in the TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. Excerpts of his interview:

Why do you think the online tutorials are such a hit? Do you think that schools fail to balance a lot of children’s knowledge?
Some of the flaws in the traditional learning is that students need to continue with the lectures no matter they have understood the chapter or not. If you don’t know 10 per cent of the study material, it is viewed as a judgement on you. You accumulate all this gap and then when you study further, you find difficulty in understanding it. What Khan Academy is doing is to fill those gaps as well make studies interesting. The best part is that you can access the videos anytime and anywhere.

With teachers around, you can approach them and can talk over queries.
That’s where I feel there should be schools and a room for discussion. I believe students should be given time to understand subjects at their own time and degree. Even the act of watching a 10-minute video is like asking a question. Like if somebody do not understand the quadratic formula, they can go back and see it again.
The idea is that you can do exercises and get feedback on the website, and when teachers arrive, you can ask questions. In the traditional model, teachers use 10-15 minutes of their time in such discussions whereas now it can be 100 per cent. The concept is to supercharge your learning process.

Why did you choose to come in India?
A lot of Indians have already registered to our website and therefore, we felt there is a need for a Hindi platform. Also the Indian Government spends around $100 billion on education which shows this sector is a priority for them. It is also going back to the roots as my mother belongs to Murshidabad, West Bengal.

So you’ll follow National Council of Education Research and Training (NCERT) syllabus?

Yes, we will stick to the NCERT syllabus for mathematics for class 5 to class 8. This will include videos and exercises.

Do you have plans to launch the portal in other vernacular languages?
Not in the near future but I do see a need of it.

Now that you have a global presence, how will you maintain the quality considering your humour grabs learner’s attention?
It’s like the early days of movie industry where we didn’t really know what would make somebody a successful film actor. Similarly, we are learning how to find out talented, witty people to whom we can train.

Will there be a screen test?
We are asking people to make some content and then we are getting it rated by some of our viewers.

Is it true that the human mind has limitations and can’t grasp every subject. 
I am not convinced as people think they have limitations but it’s not. Around 400 years ago, algebra was considered an advance subject and now we expect everybody to learn it. I think visuals, human writing and colours help to improve your learning.

How do you plan to reach rural population, considering poor connectivity and lack of internet facilities are major issues?
We know the basic problems and we consider this venture as the beginning. We will partner with the state governments and other foundations to reach remote areas. We can bridge the learning gap by providing personalised learning solutions to rural population.

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