Practice no sloth, so that the duty and good work, which it is necessary for thee to do, may not remain undone (Zoroaster)
There is a revolutionary teacher on YouTube called Salman Khan; I just ran across his educational (free) videos which teach everything from basic fractions to advanced biology. But his major contribution is a revolutionary concept that has upset teachers all across the nation. More in a moment. He is talking, and some famous billionaires are listening. Khan has a collection of advanced degrees from prestigious universities such as MIT and Harvard, so we know that he is smart, very smart, very, very smart. He was born in New Orleans, but he personifies our urgent need to allow ambitious and motivated immigrants to enter this great country. Salman’s father was from Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world, and his mother was born in India. Khan, 35, got tired of making money (!) as an analyst in a hedge fund and decided that posting free classes on YouTube was much more rewarding.
A casual observation he made in high school led him to propose a radical change on how we deliver knowledge to kids. One of his classmates was struggling to understand some math problems, so the teacher went over the concept several times. Meanwhile Khan was bored out of his mind to the point where he asked to jump ahead one year. His request was denied so he took advanced maths in a local university during the summer. The idea of changing the classroom format matured as he accummulated academic degrees until he quit his lucrative job in the private sector. The idea is simple but hard to swallow for most educators.
The concept of one teacher in front of a classroom is a very old one; it started probably more than 500 years ago. Can we get rid of it and replace it with what he is doing, videos that students can download at their convenience, ACCORDING TO THEIR LEVEL OF PROGRESS?
Think about it; the students themselves determine the academic level and the curriculum they need because every subject under the sun would be available with the click of a mouse.
In a regular classroom, and I should know because I see it every day, half the class is usually bored and pays little attention to the teacher. Why? Because half of them already know what the teacher is trying to communicate and the other half can’t keep up so they simply shut down. The level of skills is so unequal and yet we continue teaching as if all the students had the same ability to progress. Yes, we offer some advanced classes, but even then the students have no control over the curriculum and their own academic goals. They choose from a smorgasborg of subjects guided mostly by their counselors. But the format is the same, whether in college preparation classes or in special education classes for those who suffer from learning disabilities. There is an adult standing in front of them who tries to get their attention and who many times fails to motivate them. Can we or should we change that and listen to this new education guru?
I’d love to read about your ideas on the subject, but I firmly believe that Khan has placed his finger on what requires a profound change to make education better, much better.