Conversations with Sal: Talks and presentations
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The Gates Notes: Sal on Khan Academy
In 2004, my cousin Nadia was having trouble with math. She was in New Orleans, I was in Boston. I decided to virtually tutor her. It worked out, so I said, oh, let me tutor some other family members. It became pretty obvious pretty quick that it was hard to scale that, and it was hard to schedule it all the time. So essentially, I just started putting videos on YouTube. In 2009, I started doing Khan Academy full-time. In the fall of 2010, we got funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and from Google, and now we're a real organization. Right now in a traditional classroom, a teacher has to deliver essentially a one-size fits all lecture, pretty much guaranteeing that some of the students are going to be lost or some are bored. Students have to do problems in a vacuum. They come back. You kind of repeat that process. Then you get a snapshot exam. And then on that exam, whether you get 70%, 90%, or 95%, you're moved onto the next concept. And it's almost guaranteed to leave gaps in your knowledge. At some point, your foundation is going to be so weak that it will essentially crumble. There's got to be a better way to do this. Going through the high school experience, when we would train for math competitions, we had a completely different way of teaching each other. Everyone was learning math a lot better in this kind of extracurricular setting where the peers were teaching each other. Everyone was learning at their own pace. It was really interactive, really social. People were starting to make the connections across subject area because you had to have a holistic understanding when you went to a competition. The ideal interaction is one-on-one, you have a tutor, you have a student, and the tutor can kind of adapt to the student. And the reason why that doesn't exist in the school system is that that's not economic. How do you reduce that? How do we give them more resources so it's a lower student-teacher ratio? In my mind, the relevant metric is student to actual productive time with the teacher ratio. We see the Khan Academy as essentially the world's free virtual school. We have the videos, literally covering everything from basic arithmetic all the way through college-level math and science and economics. The lecturer frees up the teacher, so that all of their time is now spent on these focused interventions. We have the software platform. And we have a way for students and teachers and parents to get data on what's happening. And for our students and teachers and parents actually communicate with each other, and maybe actually even teach each other. So we actually see it as a real, virtual school for the world.