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Khan Academy founder, Salman Khan, talks future of education today at Cal Poly Pomona
[November 13, 2012]

Khan Academy founder, Salman Khan, talks future of education today at Cal Poly Pomona

Nov 13, 2012 (San Bernardino County Sun - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- SALMAN KHAN BIO -- Salman Khan timeline POMONA -- Khan Academy founder Salman Khan spoke about reinventing education to about 1,000 people, a crowd which was two-thirds teachers and university students, Tuesday afternoon at Cal Poly Pomona.

"How many of you are not aware of the Khan Academy at all " Khan asked the audience. No hands went up.

Six years ago, Khan, a hedge fund analyst, created online videos to tutor his cousin in math. As of Tuesday, he has more than 435,000 subscribers on YouTube and his videos have been watched almost 205 million times.

Khan talked about how he started with tutoring his 12-year-old cousin in math over the Internet every day after school.

"She started to get a bit ahead of the curve and I became what I like to call a Tiger Cousin," Khan said. The cousin ended up taking calculus early instead of being held back in math.

Word had gotten around his family that free tutoring was going on, Khan explained, and he ended up tutoring about 10 kids.

"It was my friend who suggested I make some tutorials and put them up on YouTube," said Khan. "I said, 'no, no, that's for cats playing piano.'" Kids, "somewhat backhandedly," began to tell Khan that they liked him more on YouTube than in person.

In 2009, when merely tens of thousands of people were watching his videos every day, he realized his hobby could -- and should -- be his life's calling. He quit his job and founded the Khan Academy, a non-profit dedicated to "providing a free world-class education for anyone anywhere," according to the company's website,

"The social return on investment is high, off the charts here," Khan said. "Suddenly, in the mail, I got a $10,000 donation." Khan views videos as a small part of what is possible now. He would like Khan Academy to segue into analyzing students' progress and directing them to more individualized instruction.

"If you removed lectures from the classroom, is there a more valuable use of (teachers') time " asked Khan .

Two weeks after Microsoft founder Bill Gates publicly praised Khan Academy, Gates' staff reached out to Khan to take the project to the next level.

At Khan Academy, advancement for students is based more on how video games progress players, not the traditional Prussian-model, he said.

"In the traditional model, you batch them by age, and then advance them en masse," Khan said. "It sets the students up, often times, to hit walls." The process of not making sure that you have acceptable foundations is a key problem with American education, he explained.

Khan said he doesn't think classrooms should be based on lectures. Now, you can finally have tiers tutoring each other, mentoring each other. Teachers are using Khan Academy analytics to pair students together, with strong students tutoring weaker ones.

The traditional model separates out kids who are ahead or behind. Instead, we let all students work at their own pace at Northern California school. Khan Academy is hands-on.

"Here, teachers were a resource and it was telling the kids, "You're in charge of your own learning," Khan said. "Colleges require that you take ownership of your own learning." Khan said a lot of their users are just people trying to better themselves. He showed a Khan Academy testimonial from a former C-student who went back to school to study electrical engineering and is now a 4.0 student.

The Khan Academy now has 7,000 videos redone in other languages, including Spanish, Urdu, Bengali and Farsi.

"All of this started somewhat inadvertently, or very inadvertently," Khan said. "But we're at something of an inflection point." Throughout history, education has been the differentiation point between the haves and have-nots, said Khan. We now have a world where the (Mongolian orphans) of the world have access to the same educational material as Bill Gates' kids, he said.

The presentation just took a short break before a 90-minute Q&A period begins with Khan, of Khan Academy.

"It's kind of surprising that every professor on the planet has to write their own questions," said Khan. "What I'm eager to see is a reality where you decouple the credentialing and education." Hopefully, if you learn freshman biology at the Khan Academy, you could get university credit for it, Khan said.

The Khan Academy is constantly tweaking the site interface to see how it affects education outcomes.

"There's a slight hypocrisy to what I'm doing right here, which is a live lecture," said Khan. The audience laughed.

Classroom Q&As have a lot of value in education, said Khan. There's no easy way to prove they have the (job) skills employers need, he said.

Khan wants to see "competency-base credentials" instead of a focus on alma mater.

In five years, most people, especially in the developing world, will access Khan Academy through mobile devices.

"I have kids. I want them to go to a very physical school," doing hands-on learning, said Khan. He would like to see ongoing evaluations.

"That certificate you get at 16 1/2 doesn't mean much. Do you still know trigonometry at age 30 " he asked.

Khan also discussed himself a bit, telling the crowd that he believes he's "the poorest person to ever appear on the cover of Forbes." He owns three Hondas, and he's not a millionaire, he said.

"I don't know if I'd want that education czar role," Khan said. "I'm a big believer in more organic change." A special education teacher asked Khan for Khan Academy to tackle remedial reading. Literacy is something "we take really seriously," Khan responded, but it's not where the Khan Academy competency is yet.

Khan is speaking about reinventing education at a sold-out presentation and question and answer session at Cal Poly Pomona.

He's been hailed as a major innovator in education by luminaries such as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Bill Gates. And this month, he's on the cover of Forbes Magazine.

His videos are available online at

More details to come.

Reach Beau via email, call him at 909-386-3826, or find him on Twitter @InlandEd.

___ (c)2012 the San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, Calif.) Visit the San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, Calif.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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