Sunday, October 23, 2011

Khan Academy: The Start of a Revolution?

Bill Gates, for one, thinks so!

Sometimes serendipity can lead to great things. That is what happened with Khan Academy when one man's 'mission' to tutor his cousins who were residing in another state led to the creation of a virtual school with which its founder, Salman Khan, hopes to "educate the world."

And Khan Academy is doing just that: educating the world. With more than 2600 educational videos posted on its website, and growing fast, Khan Academy offers online lectures on subjects as diverse as algebra and art history to statistics and organic chemistry. Every day hundreds of students use the academy to get a better understanding of concepts they are learning in school and to learn new concepts.

But Khan Academy of course is not just for school students. There are videos on GMAT problem solving, brain teasers "useful for many job interviews," and, in case you were curious as to how to address the banking crisis, you can even check out videos on the Geithner Plan!

Already the academy and its founder are winning plaudits. Bill Gates, in the video posted above, hails Salman Khan as a "pioneer in an overall movement to use technology to let more and more people learn things,  know where they stand" and says that "it's the start of a revolution." The Washington Post reports that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation last year made $1.5 million donation to the not-for-profit academy. Last year Google also awarded it a $2 million grant for being one of the five organizations that won a crowd-sourced contest for their "world changing ideas."

But can Khan Academy really change the world? Its mission statement says that it is committed to "providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere." And because it is free, its well-prepared online video lessons can certainly benefit millions of people in third world countries who lack access to good quality education. People without access to the Internet of course would still lose out and not everyone understands English. But the academy has been using the help of volunteers to translate its videos into other languages; dubbed and sub-titled videos are now available in more than a dozen languages.

Khan Academy has come a long way indeed in a very short span of time. Perhaps a revolution in world-wide education is in the offing!