(Page 2 of 3)
We are already getting a lot of great talent in teaching, but we’ll get even more people who aspire to do this. And it will change the dynamic in the classroom to where the students say, I wish I had a chance of becoming that person who I have the privilege to be with in this room. That completely changes the dynamic of the classroom. I think that’s possible.
A lot of the excuses—oh, we can’t have technology; it’s too expensive—those are a round-off error compared to the amount of money that’s being spent even on things like textbooks and whatever else.
reason: One of the things you emphasize is that there are multiple ways and multiple sites of education. Talk a bit about how we have to start reimagining education so it’s not something that happens eight-and-a-half months a year in a brick building with bad air conditioning.
Khan: That’s what a lot of people don’t
realize. We all grew up in this education system. The education
system looks fairly similar anywhere you go in the world. All of us
just assume this is what school is. What I write a lot about in the
book is that no, this is actually a 200-year-old artifact. It comes
from the Prussians;
they don’t exist anymore, but they were kind of the cornerstone of Germany now. They said: We want to have public education, which is a very egalitarian idea. But how do you do that in a scalable way, in a mass way? Well, it’s the beginnings of the industrial revolution. How do we do anything in scale? We put things in batches.
In schools, [the batches are] age-based cohorts. We have a bell ringing every shift. They go at a set pace; at every station you try to apply something to it and at some point you sift the product: “This is the good product. This is the bad product. That’s destined for the supermarket. That orange is going to be juiced.” There’s the exact same thing with kids.
The U.S., in the middle of the 1800s, said: We want to do public education too. They said: Well, the Prussians have got a model and we’re going to do the exact same thing. That’s how we’re going to scale. In 1892 a few people realized you had this Prussian model already all over the country, but it wasn’t standardized. In Massachusetts it would be different from what’s happening in Georgia. So you had this committee of 10 that literally sat down, headed by the president of Harvard, and decided physics will be their last year of high school, chemistry the year before. You’re going to do two to three years of foreign languages. You’re going to do geometry. It hasn’t changed since 1892.
reason: Education is one of the last places to experience the revolt against the industrial revolution mind-set of standardized parts and processes. Why is personalization so late in coming to education?
Khan: Hopefully in the whole sweep of history it won’t seem like it’s come so late. Almost everything I write about in the book, they’re ideas that have been around a long time: mastery-based, self-based learning. There are examples of this being experimented with in the 1920s and in the 1970s, and they actually saw really good results. They were studied, and [two things] made them very difficult to scale: Everyone else was indoctrinated in something else, and they just assumed that that’s what education was. The other thing is that in 1920 or in 1970 to do this type of thing, where every student is learning at their own pace and mastering concepts, was a huge effort on the part of the teacher to just coordinate. Hey, you’re doing something different [from what] they’re doing; how do I keep track of it? They would have to run around with a worksheet and print out things and grade 30 times more things that they would have otherwise had to do.
Now you have informational technology—which has been around for 20 years, so you could say it’s late, but 20 years isn’t that long in the whole sweep of history—that can now coordinate information. That, coupled with the idea that the barriers to consuming the information have gone to pretty much zero and the barriers to producing the information have gone close to zero.
Before, if someone like me wanted to go out and make lessons for kids in schools, I would have to go pitch some publishing company. Then we’d go through some process, pitch it to some top-down bureaucracy. Eventually, maybe, I’d have to argue it with people. “Are you teaching it the right way? Are you not?” What gets down to the students would be this weird, watered-down thing.
Now you can go straight to students. You can go straight to teachers. You can go to parents. All of these things have come together.
reason: Some of the ideas that you talk about, like flipping the school day, are not even things that would require any real change other than a change in attitude.
Khan: I write a lot about this, and we’ve become somewhat associated with this notion of flipping the classroom. One thing I point out is that it’s not my idea; it’s not Khan Academy’s idea. In 2007, 2008, teachers starting emailing saying: Hey, you made some reasonable videos on completing the square or factoring polynomials. I don’t think the most valuable use of my time as a teacher is to give lectures anymore. I can have students do that at their own time and pace. And then in class we’ll make it interactive. We’ll do the problem solving. What used to be homework is now in class. What used to be classwork, or lectures, is now at home.
reason: The idea is that teachers can help kids work through problems and explain to the whole class, and then later in the day when they’re at home or whatever, students can soak in the lectures at their own pace.
Khan: That’s right. That’s one model which gets closer to the right idea. But then you can keep running with that. You don’t have to say it has to happen at home or it has to happen in school—you can do problem solving wherever. But you should have some point in the day where humans do get together, where they can help each other. It gives the teacher real-time information on how the kids are doing. And it allows you to go to the next level. Any time you’re lecturing, it has to be one pace fits all. Now everyone can learn at their own pace, learn the stuff that matters, and you can start leveraging peer to peer.