Is developing an intolerance towards Maths negativity priceless?

Posted by France on Apr 5, 2016

From a personal point of view, I was quite surprised to hear Mr. Bill Gates’ statement, particularly when he said to Mr Khan, “I think you’ve just got a glimpse of the future of education”. After reading Willingham’s article, this makes me wonder of the past success that our world has experienced; after all, humans have done so many exploits in lots of fields where Mathematics has certainly brought its contribution. If education is “the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university, or an enlightening experience”, it would be presumptuous to forget past achievements. The world is changing, or more precisely it’s in constant evolution and certainly new methods of teaching are inevitable and even necessary, but to what extent?

It is indisputable that countries such as China, Korea, Singapore, etc., which are regarded as great achievers at Mathematics and I would somehow reiterate that since 1980, the Singapore Ministry of Education developed its own mathematics textbooks that focused on problem solving and heuristic model drawing. What Sal khan has managed to do is to adapt with the current western maths teaching methods and use his former skills as a hedge funds to target our mathematical weaknesses, you-tube is the ideal platform to reach the largest followers, to which I’m also included.

Personally, I have learned so many things on Geometry during the past few months and I was able to pause, rewind, and stop where necessary, simply because Khan Academy, via you-tube, enables me to learn at my own pace and even though I don’t know Kung Fu, I was able to have some conceptual knowledge in areas that are relevant to this course. The Swiss cheese gaps is more exposed as Khan seems to use the benchmarking process employed by businesses; comparing with others and finding ways in closing gaps in performance, thus allowing his team to track students performance at different stages of their studies.

However, I am a little sceptical with regards to Khan’s global goal, if my assumption is right, using business methods to tackle educational issues could be regarded as a forced marriage where submission (yielding, capitulation, agreement, acceptance, consent, accession, compliance) forms an integral part of the union. One must not forget, Khan has a Master’s Degree at Harvard Business School and successful you-tube videos are lavishly rewarded. Although great feedback such as the Autistic student who immediately understood calculus and fractions after watching his videos, perhaps the purest thing to do is to let the teachers teach and businesses do their own business. Using technology is very important, but there are situations where the traditional way of teaching is still relevant, where KPI (Key Performance Indicators) are only for businesses and its workforce, not for children at this stage.

I totally agree that learning mathematics requires three types of knowledge: factual, procedural, and conceptual. Although Khan Academy has contributed a lot in the lives of millions, the question is; is success blind? Can we find other ways to meet the same result? Or, is Khan genuine in his quest?


  1. aw677
    5 April 2016

    Once again reading your think piece I find it refreshingly balanced, bringing up points that I myself had not thought about. I definitely agree that prescribing to a method that seems successful in it’s infancy is a dangerous thing, but I also feel that you cannot discount the same successes if it seems to work. Isn’t it our job to look at all that is available in terms of teaching methodology and adapt to what suits our students best? Also I think that it is a little naïve to think that we are able to keep KPI’s out of the classroom, after all what is the purpose of SAT’s, GCSE’s and A Levels if not a KPI for schools and pupils alike?

  2. jat32
    11 April 2016

    I was interested to read your comments on the management style of much of the Khan Academy material. I must admit that this is part of the attraction for me. It strikes me that in such a data obsessed area as mathematics that how a teacher can work out if a student is actually learning, with enough time to intervene if they are not, is something that isn’t that focused on. So one of the things that I really liked about Khan’s talk was the ability to get pretty much ‘real time’ information on the students’ progress. I think that I would find such information incredibly powerful teaching aid.

  3. pepsmccrea
    12 April 2016

    Interesting (and balanced) discussion, and some important questions asked about the marketisation of education. I would have liked to have heard more about your thoughts on Willingham’s ideas, but I understand the constraints of 500 words!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.