Over the years, a distressing scene has been replayed in homes across the land far too many times… A panic-stricken child finally realises that parents aren’t – after all – capable of helping out when really needed. While said parents, irritable and helpless when confronted with modern Maths/Chemistry/typically hard subject, find they aren’t remotely equipped to assist with their child’s homework. Tempers fray under the pressure and the generation gap yawns into an unbridgeable chasm. However this scene can be consigned to history, thanks to Salman Khan and his Khan Academy.
But don’t take my word for it – this is what Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft has to say on the subject, “I discovered Sal Khan and Khan Academy like most other people – by using these incredible tools with my own kids. Sal Khan’s vision and energy for how technology could fundamentally transform education is contagious. He’s a true pioneer in integrating technology and learning. I’m happy that, through this book, even more people will be introduced to this ground-breaking innovation.”
A free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere: this is the goal of the Khan Academy; a passion project that grew from an ex-engineer and hedge funder’s online tutoring sessions with his niece, who was struggling with algebra, into a worldwide phenomenon. Today millions of students, parents and teachers use the Khan Academy’s free videos and software, which have expanded to encompass nearly every conceivable subject, and Academy techniques are being employed with exciting results in a growing number of classrooms around the globe.
I first heard about the Khan Academy from the talented science fiction writer Tricia Sullivan at Eastercon, where she enthused about teaching herself Maths up to calculus level, thanks to the online lessons now available to anyone with a computer and internet connection. Immediately, I checked it out and was extremely impressed at the extensive series of colourful, unthreatening lessons and the self-testing tasks to ensure you have fully grasped the concept before you move on.
So it was a real treat when my mother sent me this book as an extra Christmas pressie (thank you, Mum!). Khan has lots of fascinating things to say about the current, unsatisfactory manner in which we teach children. As an ex-primary school teacher, I found myself muttering in agreement at his observations at the broken-backed system that – as far as I can see – is in place as a cheap way of keeping children off the streets rather than equipping them with relevant knowledge fit for the 21st century.
Khan suggests that instead of having a teacher deliver a lesson to a group of children in a totally arbitrary manner, they learn individually at their own pace using modern technology with the teacher acting as enabler. He also suggests that a far more creative, wide-ranging curriculum should be in place, where children undertake complex self-directed tasks in groups. A revolutionary approach to state-funded education? Absolutely. But our current system produces far too many children unable to master the basics, who, frustrated and angry, become an unemployable underclass. Government’s constant tinkering only further undermines discouraged teachers and destabilises an already creaking system.
Read Salman Khan’s solutions to our educational problems – and then could someone point the Minister of Education in the direction of this book? Please?? We cannot continue to squander our most precious resource – our children.