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The One World Schoolhouse





May 1, 2014

Sooner or later almost every mere mortal meets their Waterloo in math. For Salman Khan, not the Bollywood-star, but a self-proclaimed math nerd and graduate of MIT and Harvard Business School, it was when he hit a wall tutoring his cousin in sixth grade math. Traditional coaching wasn't getting through, and Khan was troubled as to why his cousin (who was bright, engaged in school and had always done well in math) was even struggling with this particular unit in the first place. Not living in the same city, let alone the same state, was an obstacle quickly resolved when Khan realized that there could be more to Youtube than fluffy cat videos.

An advocate of mastery learning over good-enough grades, Khan developed a digital age method of tutoring his cousin that quickly spread to include other family members and students who needed similar support. The roster of videos grew, as the blackboard of the Internet site is never erased, allowing students to master a unit at their own pace before moving on to the next.

After several years of creating his video tutorials out of a closet-like space in his home, Khan quit his job as a financial analyst and devoted himself full-time to building the Khan Academy. Several thousand YouTube videos later, and with a professional team in place, the Khan Academy now educates, free of charge, millions of students world-wide every year. Sponsors and benefactors came forward, including Bill and Melinda Gates, and, in less than a decade, the Academy is no longer an experiment but a world-class centre of online learning.

It's almost the stuff Bollywood films are made of, if they were made of math. Instead, the roots, philosophy and development of the Khan Academy are now described in a book: The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined. "It's useful--and humbling," writes Khan, "to realize that the debates and controversies currently surrounding education tend not to be new arguments at all; similar conflicts have been raging among people of passion and goodwill since teaching and learning began."

In entering the debate himself, Kahn doesn't advocate for a full scale dismantling of the Western classroom model. Instead, he envisions "flipping" the classroom, to allow teachers to focus on high-value, personalized support, feedback and direction; and classes to engage in collaborative learning and problem-solving. Meanwhile, the Academy's 24-by-7 online learning tools give them a whole new forum to learn, practise, "pause and repeat as necessary" until mastery is achieved.

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