Innovator behind free KhanAcademy.org says education system needs a rethink

Published: October 10, 2012

If you’ve been following the recent heated debate about the B.C. education system, you could be forgiven for thinking the major issue facing it was government underfunding … especially of teachers. That’s no surprise; it’s what the B.C. Teachers’ Federation wants you to believe, because it suits the militant union and its members. The problems in our school system, however, have far less to do with any alleged cash crunch than with the need for long-overdue reform to make public education less boring.

This isn’t just an issue here, but across the western world.

As U.S. educator Sal Khan points out, the standard education model of going early to school and sitting through a succession of 40- to 60-minute classes “in which the teachers mainly talk and the students mainly listen” is an anachronism.

“It’s a fundamentally passive way of learning, while the world requires more and more active processing of information,” Khan notes in his new book, The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined.

The 35-year-old Khan, listed by Time as one of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2012, isn’t proposing shutting down schools, just bringing formal education “into closer alignment with the world as it actually is.”

Khan is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Business School graduate whose Bill Gates-backed Khan Academy has proved a rousing success in providing free online learning to millions. The son of immigrants from Bangladesh and India, Khan points out that students learn at different rates. But their attention span tends to max out at around 15 minutes — not 50 minutes or an hour, as in some classes where a majority of students become lost or bored.

Further, Khan takes issue with traditional homework which, he says, only becomes necessary because not much learning happens during the school day. Instead, he suggests “flipping the classroom,” so students working independently on their computers master learning basics — before going to class: “Then, there’s actually something to talk about.”

Khan also proposes mixed-age classes in merged classrooms with multiple teachers acting more like coaches. And he’d eliminate grades.

He believes that students taking self-paced video lessons in combination with computer-based feedback and team-teaching help can handle fundamental course work in one or two hours a day. That leaves them hours of extra time for “creative” pursuits.

Finally, he’d nix the long summer holiday, calling it “an agrarian relic.”

Former West Vancouver school superintendent Doug Player agrees. He also agrees with me that, when it comes to B.C. public schooling, money isn’t the issue.

“There’s plenty of money in the system, it’s how we deploy those dollars,” Player said Tuesday. “You’re not going to get people your age and my age continuing to be taxed more for a system that is out of the Dark Ages.”

Yes, our education system is an anachronism that may serve union and management interests, but not those of our children, their parents … or the public. Fundamental change is desperately needed.

jferry@theprovince.com twitter.com/jonferryonmetro




Justin Fax says:

Hey dumbass do you have ANY idea how Teachers are educated in universities these days? You are COMPLETELY WRONG when you say “As U.S. educator Sal Khan points out, the standard education model of going early to school and sitting through a succession of 40- to 60-minute classes “in which the teachers mainly talk and the students mainly listen” is an anachronism.”

One of the first things they mention as how you have to limit instructions to no more than 10 minutes for every 50 minutes of class. The other 40 minutes are supposed to be ACTIVE LEARNING! Jeezus man you realize that idiots like John Ferry seize on these factually incorrect articles to continue to bash teachers and the BCTF…

jen says:

WEll, that works fine and dandy for my inner city parents who have a hard enough time getting enough food on the table and a roof over their heads. Where is this technology supposed to come from? Is the government going to buy it as well as the internet that the students will need? Schools have technology but the districts do not seem to have the funds or willingness to keep it updated and in running order.

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