A glimpse of the future of education
According to the article by Willingham, there is enough scientific evidence supporting the idea that everyone is fully capable of learning mathematics.
Mathematical proficiency will require careful cultivation and will develop slowly, but with persistence and hard work, students can learn. It is also absolutely understandable that, depending on personal inclinations, people choose what to learn.
This is quite reassuring as it will help to challenge the widespread attitude that mathematics is only for the brightest and some are just no good at it.
But the question is, can students learn mathematics in the way our advanced society now needs them to? And more importantly, what is the way our advanced society now needs them to learn mathematics?
In America, an excess of pragmatism in the way maths is taught in schools has generated a serious lack of conceptual understanding. There are even debates about textbooks that do not make the meaning of the equal sign clear enough for students to understand. This is symptomatic not only of the low level of conceptual understanding, but it also tells us how far we (they) are from educating patient problem solvers. In this way, one day we will end up having our former students calculating our pensions thinking, we are better off with an increase of 0.015 rather than 0.05, just because 15 is bigger than 5.
According to Willingham, conceptual knowledge is more difficult to acquire because new concepts must build upon something that students already know. As students advance, new concepts will increasingly depend on old conceptual knowledge.
One of the pillars of the Khan academy is that students move on to the next topic only when they are really ready to do so, that is when they can master the previous topic at 100%. Although I believe that Khan refers only to procedural knowledge, I agree with him.
What I most appreciate about this method is that it allows teachers to make diagnosis to target weaknesses and more importantly it helps to tackle the self-fulfilling prophecy effect. I believe that some students might need some little extra time to learn and his website could provide a fan of familiar examples and analogies for students to learn to which they can return again and again at their own pace and in the intimacy of their room.
I also agree with Khan that another great advantage in removing the one-size-fits-all lecture from the classroom is that it frees up time for the teachers to go around the classroom and work on a one to one basis and students can interact in the classroom helping each other.
A one-world classroom is the ultimate goal of the Khan Academy. It can be difficult to accept his view because we usually prefer to stick to what is familiar. His motto ‘using technology to humanize the classroom’ might sound a little like an oxymoron; whether this is really the natural evolution of class teaching or rather its technological evolution, I can easily imagine that many of his ideas will be implemented in the mainstream teaching.