"We Need To Prepare Our Kids In A Way That Goes Beyond Academic Knowledge": Khan Academy
In an interview with BW Education, Sandeep Bapna, MD, Khan Academy talks about why it is important to go beyond the conventional lines of education and more.
What are some of the new initiatives that Khan Academy is taking to provide adequate learning resources to teachers and students alike?
Khan Academy is a non-profit with a mission to provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere. The platform is available via web (www.khanacademy.org), as well as on Android and iOS apps. Khan Academy’s iOS and Android apps contain interactive practice exercises and video lessons in several subjects including math, biology, chemistry, physics, history, economics, finance, grammar, preschool learning, and more.
Given that 80% of internet usage in India happens on mobile, we are continuously working on improving our mobile offering – on app and mobile web. Our android app is light, content can be downloaded to be viewed later even in offline mode. Videos have been optimized for low bandwidth conditions. We have redesigned our interactive exercises to work on mobile. The app and entire content on it is completely free.
We have also introduced several new features for students and teachers this year. Let me explain 2 of them.
For students, we have introduced quizzes and unit tests to provide students with personalized study plans. When a student takes a brief diagnostic quiz, they are provided with recommendations for the specific exercises they should focus on. Mid-unit quizzes provide a check for understanding on additional skills, and a final unit test combines problems from all skills within the unit to help students assess their progress.
Second, teachers can now assign videos, articles, and exercises across a range of subjects and grades. They can make these assignments to an entire class or to specific students. Students would be able to see and complete these assignments on either Khan Academy site or app. The reports are not only real-time and simple to use, but also are powerful in helping a teacher to assess their students’ performance. They make it possible for a teacher to identify the most challenging problems for their class and the learning gaps/needs of individual students.
Do you think that there is a need to step outside the conventional lines of subjects/topics that are taught and cater to something different?
Absolutely yes. As we look ahead, it is clear that we need to prepare our kids in a way that goes beyond academic knowledge and include skills such as complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity amongst others. How do we incorporate these 21st century skills, as they are sometimes called, into the learning process? Good news is that there are several promising experiments running around the world. For example, at Khan Lab School in California students are grouped by level of independence and in flexible academic groups instead of by age or grade. Student learning revolves around concepts (not content alone), which bring ‘real world’ meaning into the learning process. As teachers and parents, we would need to play a big role in making this happen.
How personalized is the content of Khan Academy with regard to the Indian curriculum?
We lay strong emphasis on personalization of Khan Academy experience to learners. This happens in several ways.
One, our math and physics content is already mapped to Indian curriculum. Since Khan Academy’s content is built with skills as a foundation with well-defined learning goals, it can be used by students of all boards. We already see students from CBSE, ICSE, state and international boards using Khan Academy to learn.
Second, at the time of registering on Khan Academy, one can choose subjects which creates a personalized dashboard for students. You can see your subjects and assigned homework all in one place.
Three, a student can now take brief diagnostic quizzes/tests when starting a new topic such as complex numbers in class 11th. These tests identify your specific areas of growth and recommend lessons for exactly what you need to learn.
What is Khan Academy's USP as compared to the other players in the same market?
There is some amazing work happening in India in online/digital educational content, which is great as collectively we are reaching less than 5% of student population in India today. Talking about Khan Academy, we started off with our founder tutoring his cousins. Several things stood out from those early days that have become core to how we build content on Khan Academy. Typically, Khan Academy content is simple, free of jargon and yet deep. It feels like it is created by a family member or a friend sitting down to help. Practice exercises are constructed in several ways such as multiple choice questions, free response questions and interactive graphics to help a student understand a concept deeply.
In addition, we have one single app that works for teachers, students and parents. If you are a teacher or a parent, you have access to additional tools and dashboards on our site, which is optimized for mobile usage. The app and website work together seamlessly. For example, a user signed up as a teacher can assign practice exercises on the site and her students can finish these on their app. As students complete assignments, teachers get immediate and powerful reports which is enabling many of them to effectively address learning gaps/needs of individual students.
What is your plan to reach users or possible consumers who do not have adequate access to internet or such resources required?
On the product side, we have added features such as bulk download of lessons which allow a student to use that content offline and on the go. We are also working with states and other partners. For example, we have partnered with the Government of Rajasthan to bring personalized learning to state schools starting from this current academic year. About 2,500 students in 57 classrooms are using Khan Academy resources once a week to practice and strengthen math skills.
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