Elementary students sit in a computer lab at school

Sal Khan on leveling the playing field, in and out of the classroom

Father of online education weighs in on learning loss, screen fatigue and education no longer bound by time and space.

Educators around the country were plunged into a massive experiment with virtual learning last year, when more than 50 million K-12 students were sent home at the start of the pandemic. Many were soon knocking on the door of the father of online education, Sal Khan, looking for help. The founder and CEO of the nonprofit Khan Academy, which provides free educational resources to anyone who wants them, says he was impressed with the “heroic efforts” of numerous school districts to close the digital divide, by providing device and internet access for all who needed it. Now Khan hopes school leaders “are going to be thinking long-term” and will seize the moment to create what he considers much needed system-wide change.

Three Takeaways:

  • Knowledge and achievement gaps were significant pre-pandemic and they are even bigger now, especially for many students of color. Khan points out that around 70% of all kids who go to community college need to take remedial math classes, and many four-year college students don’t fare much better either. Coming out of the pandemic, he believes it will be essential to re-engage with all students and focus on personalized learning and mastery of subjects.
  • COVID-19 relief money is flowing into school districts, and those who are prudent have an eye to the future, according to Khan whose organization now works with more than 200 districts. More teachers realize “that learning does not have to be as bound by time and space anymore,” and that there are ways to “keep kids learning, even when they aren’t in the physical classroom. Districts will “have three years to spend the [aid] money and they’re going to use those dollars to build up the capacity over time and so even when the money runs out, they’ve built a new muscle,” he explains. 
  • Khan says he has been stereotyped as “the tech guy,” who “wants to just put kids in front of screens,” but says “nothing could be further from the truth.” He believes technology can be leveraged to improve in-person learning, by providing teachers with real-time information about which students are engaged and which are not, and that can lead to more focused human interventions for those who are struggling, Khan explains.
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