How can I use the Khan Academy

"My dream is that education will become a human right"

SZ-Magazin: Mr. Khan, you put simple educational films on the Internet and receive enthusiastic letters of thanks for them. For example, a boy named Taylor writes on your home page: “I'm a student with learning difficulties in math and physics. Salman Khan changed my grades and my life. ”Can you explain that to us?
Salman Khan: In the traditional school system, all children learn at the same pace. Some get bored of it because it doesn't go fast enough, others get lost. You have gaps in your knowledge and still somehow have to go along with the next steps, although it is actually impossible to follow. This leads to the fact that the children get bad grades, feel inferior and whole families are stressed. With the Khan Academy, you can work through all the school material in all subjects yourself and pick up where you have gaps.

Why should your students understand what they otherwise do not understand?
The students can watch the videos as often as they want, without any pressure or time pressure. Just because someone is slower doesn't mean they are dumber - they just take longer. In addition to the films, the Khan Academy offers exercises with which everyone can deepen their knowledge and monitor progress.

Not every student is eager to learn. Maybe some don't want to know exactly?
I am convinced that everyone wants to learn. And it increases your motivation enormously when you suddenly understand something that was completely unclear to you for a long time. Anyone can acquire standard school knowledge, that's what my staff and I also tell the students: You don't have an A? There is no reason not to make it. Seen in this way, we have much higher standards than the conventional school system, where it is often enough for a student to understand the material halfway. But even if you've got 95 percent, there's a five percent gap, and what about that five percent? They make it difficult for you to continue building.

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Still, you are a teacher who cannot be touched, you cannot even be seen, you can only be heard from your voice. They cannot comfort or cheer the students up. We know that emotional ties are important for learning.
There are definitely ties. Remember the importance books can have for a person, through the way the world is described, the particular humor - and that is written text. Many say that my voice makes them feel like someone is sitting next to them. I also think it would be distracting to be in the picture myself. So I hit the record button and get started. I don't even have to shave or comb, it doesn't matter if I have spinach between my teeth.

They also do not put a lot of effort into elaborate animations or graphics. Instead, you always see the same black board on which you write in bright colors. Why?
You're right, the videos look very homemade. The quality lies in the concept: I discuss a problem in a conversational tone and work out the solution in real time, taking the audience with me. I think out loud, so to speak, allowing myself to make mistakes, which I then correct, and when I find something funny I laugh. All of this is allowed to happen. People like that.

But an off-screen voice doesn't have what it takes to be a favorite teacher, does it?
You will see what will be remembered later. I try to speak to the students on an equal footing and with respect, regardless of whether I explain why one plus one is two or whether it is about vector arithmetic. As a child, I always liked that very much.

You have gathered a lot of data about your students over the past few years. What can you say about them

Seventy percent are from the United States, two-thirds are boys and one-third are girls. Most of them go to high school or college, but the Khan Academy also has much older visitors, 60, 70 or 80-year-olds, who are simply curious and want to learn a little more about the French Revolution or about black holes, for example .

In 2006 you put the very first video online. How did that happen?
My cousin Nadia was having trouble with algebra and we met to study. I was living in Boston at the time and she was in New Orleans, so we spent the hours on the phone or over the Internet. It worked so well that other family members soon asked me for support. I was still working as a hedge fund analyst at the time and now I had real time problems. So I got the idea to record the lessons and post them on Youtube.

How were the reactions?
My cousin explained that she likes me better on video. I think the stress was much less. She could take breaks or repeat the films at will. And suddenly strangers also watched the films and sent me comments that touched me very much. Ultimately, such letters prompted me to quit my job in 2009 and concentrate fully on the Khan Academy.

You were now living in Silicon Valley and your career was off to a brilliant start. Now you waived it in favor of a then still small, non-profit organization. A hard decision?
I've always enjoyed my work, but what I did was ten times more fun. My goal has always been to earn enough money that I can open my own school one day, not a traditional school, but one based on my own ideas. Now my wish suddenly came true much earlier and in a surprising way.

How many people advised you against?
When you do something unconventional, people often want to hold you back. My wife also had fears - understandably: we lived on our savings for the first nine months. But she supported me from the start, and today she is very happy.

You now have prominent sponsors: Google and, above all, the Gates Foundation have supported you with donations of millions.

That of course makes it a lot easier. But a lot of people in Silicon Valley can understand what I'm doing too. I think most people here see money as an indication of how much it is doing in the world. After a short time, the Khan Academy was better known than many other successful start-ups.

You now have over 3,400 videos available for free, and you have six million monthly visitors. The German students can also be happy: the videos are currently being translated into other languages, and a large part of the content is now also to be offered with German dubbing. How are you progressing?
It is mainly volunteers who kindly take on this task; we could definitely use reinforcements there. If you are interested, please translate a few videos and send them to us. In a second step, we want to translate the entire website into other languages, but that will definitely take another year.

Start of a revolution

Not all content is as universal as math. If a child from Munich is looking for information about the Oktoberfest or the Frauenkirche, for example, they will not find anything with you.
The translations are just the beginning. It would be even better if your own videos were created in the respective language. I can imagine that in five to ten years we will have almost independent organizations in the respective regions that will also include the relevant content there. Personally, I would like to know all of that too.

Surely there must be things that you find boring?
In all honesty, I think it's all exciting. I also believe that only a teacher who is enthusiastic can inspire his students.

According to a publication published by the OECD in 2011, eleven students in German schools have to share a computer, which puts Germany far behind in an international comparison. Other studies have also found that computers just stand around in many classrooms.
It has to do with habits and certainly also with fear. The Internet is still a very new tool and it is fair to say that many teachers are asking what to do with it in the first place. Well - at least there is now the Khan Academy ...

You are already working with schools in the USA. How are the reactions?
We have good experiences; in the vast majority of cases, teachers are really happy to have such a powerful tool. A teacher told me that he now feels like the conductor of an orchestra. He himself has more freedom, and so do the students.

Doesn't it also happen that teachers use the Khan Academy to preserve the old structures?
We have already seen that. For example, I was asked if we could not make restrictions so that students would not go too far forward and not backward. Of course I said “no” - that's precisely the idea that everyone learns individually. We want to give everyone the chance to become the best version of themselves - and not in comparison with the people who are sitting next to them.

Bill Gates and his children are also studying with the Khan Academy. The Microsoft founder even describes the Khan Academy as the "beginning of a revolution". Is he exaggerating?

I believe that we are actually at a turning point. My dream is for education to become a human right, not just on paper, but in reality. Schools will change too. If the children teach themselves the material with platforms such as the Khan Academy, it has serious consequences: It then no longer makes sense to divide children into age groups, since everyone learns at their own pace anyway. I also find the division into elementary school, high school and college extremely artificial. At school, the teacher will have more time to address problems or the students will help each other.

What about countries in Africa or Asia, where not everyone has access to a computer?
This is actually a problem. But I hope and believe that here too the development will progress quickly and that this issue will be settled in five to ten years.

If you talk about "comprehensive education for all", you would also have to expand your educational content. So far, the Khan Academy has mainly taught classical school material, although the world is much more colorful.
I believe that at the moment it is still necessary to offer the classical subjects because we want to strengthen the students. But we are slowly reaching the critical mass and can specifically set our own content. In school, for example, economics does not talk about the Greek financial crisis - we do. We also have a full series on cosmology or computer science - that is not taught in any elementary school. Or we introduce the religions - very factually and impartially. I also think that everyone should have the knowledge of a law student after their first semester.

Nevertheless, something is missing: In your films we can learn how a star is formed, how photosynthesis takes place or how Picasso's pictures are to be classified. But that's something completely different than looking at the starry sky at night or planting something yourself or painting a picture, don't you think?
Absolutely. When I think of a school for my own children, it is clearly a physical place and not a virtual one. But the school will be fundamentally different from the one I went to and you probably too ... where you sit in a room, the teacher speaks, you take notes, you look at the clock ... Instead, I believe that the children will unite in the future Teach most of the material yourself with the help of platforms such as the Khan Academy and school is only about these things: building robots, making fire, painting pictures, discussing with friends, playing together ...

Do you really think such schools will come? So far, the traditional school system has been extremely rigid to change.
It is always difficult to change large systems. But with the methods that we now have, it is possible that the children no longer have to go through this system, but rather find a way around it. I definitely want that for my children.

Are you sure that the children would really do math and physics then?
But yes, you have to if you want to build a robot, for example. That is exactly what defines us humans, that we want to understand the world around us.

So what should the new schools look like?
It is important that the children continue to have a place where they can come together and meet their friends. What this place looks like remains to be seen; maybe like a combination of museum, library, laboratory and workshop. These schools will be about having really deep experiences and maturing as a person.

Salman Khan
If you search for Salman Khan online, you will first come across the famous Bollywood actor. Salman Khan, the internet educator, also has Indian roots. Born in New Orleans in 1976, he earned several degrees, including an MBA from Harvard Business School, and then worked as a hedge fund analyst until he focused entirely on Khan Academy. Today he lives in California with his wife, a rheumatism specialist who is regularly pestered by her husband when it comes to medical issues. They have a son and a daughter. Khan became known to a large public in 2008: At that time, he explained to viewers live on the news channel CNN how real estate speculation could lead to the national financial crisis.

Photo: Ron Seidenglanz