Guest Opinion: Khan Academy is a game changer for education
December 7, 2011
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By Todd Borden | Guest Opinion | December 7, 2011
I have seen the future of education, and it doesn’t involve schools or teachers; it’s the Khan Academy.
If you haven’t seen the Khan Academy yet, you would be well advised to check it out; it is an absolute game changer because it allows students to take control of their own education and not be subject to the whims and dictates of the educational establishment.
A bit of history—all the way back to last century. When I went to Dos Pueblos (1977-1981) I came to the school to be exposed to people who were repositories of knowledge. They would decide what knowledge to impart on me, and how fast to give it to me—“You’re in 11th grade, you enroll in United States History.” This was a model that had been established about 75 years earlier, and it is a model that we largely still follow today—with the same small classrooms, Carnegie units, and curriculum from on high. Khan will change that.
And this system, with teachers, expert in certain subjects, imparting knowledge to children was largely necessary. In my case, I was not a gifted math student, and my parents, despite advanced college degrees, did not possess the math knowledge to assist me. So I went to the experts—the teachers—to educate me on what my parents could not provide. But the Khan academy changes that model by giving any child with a computer an expert in math (and science, and social studies, and soon-to-be English) in their house, whenever they want it.
My daughter and I have been using Khan to augment the math education she is receiving at Kellogg school. Her grade level curriculum is working on division, estimates, and place value. With Khan she is working on linear equations, negative exponents, and radicals. I used to worry that her school wouldn’t provide a pre-algebra curriculum for her before she went to Goleta Valley Junior High; now I’m confident that she will complete the basic concepts of pre-algebra before Christmas of this year—her fourth grade year. And let me be clear, Alison is not a math prodigy or profoundly academic; she is a well-rounded youngster with a healthy motivation—Khan has been the difference, the game changer.
When my wife, a special education teacher at Dos Pueblos, and I first looked at Khan earlier this year she exclaimed: “This is great, now my students have a mechanism to excel.” And she is correct. However, as egalitarian as Khan is (it’s totally free and available to anyone who has access to the internet) it is going to be exploited more completely by the already motivated students (and their helicopter parents). This has implications for our future at DP. I don’t believe it will be possible for teachers, or administrators, or school boards, or state boards, or colleges to tell students what they need to know and when they will learn it anymore. Those days are long gone. If students can access their own curriculum, the motivated students will learn and progress at their own rate. They will show up to DP with robust academic experiences and many will “test out” of our current core classes through challenge exams, or they will already have fulfilled the requirements by enrollment at SBCC or in online courses. These students will demand ever more robust academic programs from us—programs that they can access and progress through at their own rate—or they’ll attend somewhere else.
I’ve been working on establishing an “early college academy” at DP for the last few years. With any luck it will be launched in the next year or two. This academy would allow students to access Santa Barbara City College classes whilst still in high school, to the degree that they could complete their first two years of college without ever leaving the DP campus. I used to say, only somewhat facetiously, that I wanted it in place by the time my daughter arrived in 2016; I now realize this will be too late. The Khan Academy (and the myriad of inevitable imitators) will provide the means for many students to begin arriving at DP with the need for college-level classes in ever-increasing and ever-younger numbers. And we will have to meet that need.
DP will be a very different place in ten years. I predict there will be many fewer teachers to teach the same number of students. Many of the learning experiences for the motivated–and non-motivated–students will be accessed through technology—often without a teacher in the room or students sitting in a classroom. I used to think that one gift I could provide my daughter was to guide her through the labyrinth of the US educational system. I’m not at all sanguine about that now; in fact, the Khan Academy, and Alison’s experience in the next twelve years, will be teaching me about the brave new education in the 21st century.