Posted by KK, Uncategorized on Nov 16, 2015

The internet evolution and the ability to interact remotely with each other from all corners of the world could revolutionise the way we learn and teach. Imagine a classroom in a remote town in sub Saharan Africa, learning and experiencing the very same kind of education that students from the big affluent cities of this world are getting. With advancements in technologies and organisations like Khan Academy, The Bill Gates Foundation, and a redirection of international aid for education, all this could be made possible. An investment in a widely available internet connection and the supply of computers to learners could be the answer to the improvement of education standards around the world, especially in the less affluent areas commonly associated with poor standards of education. So what’s stopping us?

If you are a follower of Khan Academy like myself, you would always notice that Sal follows a systematic approach to every topic he teaches. Together with the use of his ample knowledge of mathematical facts and procedures, the first thing he always does is to instil in you the basic concepts of the topic through graphical models, number lines and repeatedly insisting on the importance of maintaining the equivalence of two sides in every algebraic equation, despite the complexity of the equation (Hung-Hsi Hu: Basic Skills Versus Conceptual Understanding). This is exactly what Daniel Willingham thinks is the best way to teach and his evidence is here, Sal Khan.

In the Ted Talk Sal read out one of the feedbacks from a mother of an autistic child whose son, despite trying all avenues, could not acquire some mathematical concepts. Finally he found solace in Khan Academy and was able to excel. This was possible because Sal’s way of teaching encourages students to repeat each topic video several times and to complete all problems given. This is complemented with visual procedural hints which help learners to get the concepts, at their own pace, before moving on. Wherever possible he advises the learner the importance of memorising mathematical facts while discouraging students from memorising formulae before they can understand how to formulate it.

The problem we have in classrooms, as also noted by Jo Boaler in The Elephant in the Classroom, is that time and again new topics are being forced on students before the concepts and procedures of the previous topic have been grasped and understood. As a result the essence of the topic and its mastery is lost. As time goes by they struggle to catch up and comprehend the topics that follow, ending up with a student that perceives himself as one who “can’t do maths”. This could be attributed to poor teaching methods. Students are not given ample time to learn and practice nor are they given good enough advice as to which websites to turn to in order to complement their classroom lessons (Sal Khan, Ted Talk).

To cap it all, the technology is there and all it needs is some great minds to put it to proper use, just like what the Los Altos School have done. What amazes me is if all those great minds like Pythagoras, Thales, and Einstein had all this technology what more could they have done with it. Proper usage of technology could be the difference between having students who think ‘can’t do maths’ and flipping them into students willing to share their mathematical knowledge with their peers (Sal Khan). A WIN WIN situation!


  1. Laura
    16 November 2015

    You are clearly very familiar with the Khan Academy KKay, and I enjoyed reading about your experience of it. I would be interested to know how you would go about solving the problem you describe in the penultimate paragraph of students being rushed ahead and if you think Khan academy is the way forward in tackling this. (Assuming it’s not possible to add extra hours into the day.)
    I would also be interested to see how Khan Academy (or similar) could be rolled out to places currently lacking in technology, not only in 3rd world countries but also in poorer districts of our major cities where many children still do not have computer access at home. Are we then widening the educational divide between those who have the luxury of disposable income to spend on technology and those still on or below the poverty line?
    A great, thought provoking piece. Well done.

  2. Senay
    22 November 2015

    I can clearly see several good links in your think-piece such as, Daniel Willingham’s article that connects Ted Talk Khan Academy and jo Boaler’s the elephant in the classroom. I agree that young people especially GCSE students would benefit from the Khan Academy very well.

  3. pepsmccrea
    23 November 2015

    Great to see you engage with the articles presented. You are making some great links with other relevant ideas as well as your own experience. I would have liked to have heard more about what you think about Willingham’s writing, and in future, you should try to look at both the pros and the cons of anything (eg. Khan) in an attempt to reach a balanced conclusion.

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