World Class Education
The rise of the Kahn Academy in mainstream awareness has sparked a great deal of controversy. Funded by Google and The Gates Foundation, this program is a completely free, non-profit source of “World Class Education for Anyone Anywhere”.
So what’s all the buzz about? The design is based on a relatively simple learning model. Students log in and learn new skills, mostly from YouTube videos produced by experts in a variety of subjects. There are videos ranging from art history to advanced trigonometry, from the most basic to advanced levels. Students complete sample assessments, then are assigned these tutorials, based on their performance. After reviewing these video tutorials, students are able to advance through the concepts, after successfully answering a set number of questions, related to that knowledge area.
Because learner progress is so carefully tracked, if a student is unable to advance, a flag goes up in the teacher’s progress report, so that he/she can then intervene with more personalized help.
Despite the growing investment in our public education system in the U.S., the nation still holds an uncomfortably average to a low-average international position in math and science, even in comparison to countries who spend far less per student.
So why is the Kahn model so controversial? As classroom sizes continue to grow, this approach seems like an efficient way to provide individualized learning to large groups of students, who all learn differently and at different rates. If classrooms across the country embraced this model, we’d have an educational system that’s not only more effectively administered and measured, but also more accountable.
But that’s not how everyone sees it, especially the educators themselves, who have valid concerns.
The Controversy With Kahn Academy
It’s no surprise that Bill Gates was willing to donate money to the Kahn Academy fund. In a recent TED Talk this year, he proposed radical education reform, increasing performance while cutting education spending in half to reduce the budget deficit. With this in mind, it’s not hard for educators to see Gates as something of a threat to the present school system model.
Another improvement he suggests would be to stop giving teachers automatic raises based on seniority when they earn a master’s degree in pedagogy. While some educators argue that a post-graduate degree improves the quality of teaching, others argue that learning these more theoretical education techniques doesn’t necessarily result in higher learning outcomes for students.
Although the Kahn Academy was largely designed to supplement the classroom setting and not as an alternative to traditional public school teaching, it’s fascinating how much retaliation the not-for-profit has already received from traditionalists.
To address the problems facing our education system, isn’t now the time for bold ideas? Ideas like the Kahn Academy are certainly disruptive to the status quo. But isn’t that what we need? Just as technology has disrupted the music industry, publishing, advertising, shouldn’t we accept this change and embrace the opportunity to improve our educational model?
Do we see the rise of Kahn as a threat, or as the long overdue “reboot” to our educational system needs?
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