In talking about education, I’ve highlighted issues that give me fever dreams about my experience in high school and those that give me hope for future students. While I know it’s not a very sexy topic, it does matter a great deal. A society full of idiots is only good for creating embarrassing YouTube videos and Chuck Lorre sitcoms, but not much else.
Our current method for education people in the western world has a lot of room for improvement. Some, like South Korea and Japan, do it better than others. Others, like the state of Texas, are easy punchlines in jokes about stupidity and I’m not just talking about their laughable record on sexual education.
Let’s not lie to ourselves. Education is hard. Every human being is wired different. Kids are especially tricky. Between puberty and sugar, it’s hard to help them learn, especially if they don’t want to learn. Our brains weren’t wired for assembly line style education that requires memorization, lectures, and standardized tests. They were wired for survival, reproduction, and avoiding hungry bears.
At some point in the future, we may be able to tweak that old wiring to make education easier. Companies like Neuralink are already working on that. However, that kind of brain building is years off. While it is promising, there are many who may lament that they or their children won’t get to benefit from this kind of innovation. They’re stuck using textbooks and number two pencils.
Well, for once, I’m not going to fantasize about an advancement that’s way off in the future, like smart blood or sex robots. There are some amazing advancements in this field and they don’t require a brain implant. They don’t even require a private tutor from South Korea. Big changes to education aren’t just some far-off future fantasy. They’re actually happening.
That brings me to Khan Academy. I’ve mentioned them before, albeit not in great detail. I kind of feel bad about that because it’s doing some amazing work in the field of education. It is, very much, a game-changer to the way we think about education. It has the potential to educate people all over the world at a cost that’s almost negligible.
What is Khan Academy, though? Well, that’s not an unreasonable question because it’s one of those things that is known in some crowds, but not others. It’s also fairly new. Khan Academy started only ten years ago and it started by accident, which happens a lot more than you think.
The story of how it came to be is actually pretty remarkable. The man who created, Salman Khan, didn’t intend to make it into one of the biggest innovations to hit education since the invention of pocket calculators. It just played out that way. Several years ago, 60 Minutes did a story about it and it reveals some pretty amazing insights.
However it came to be, Khan Academy’s mission is as bold as it is important. It seeks, in their own words, “to provide a free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere.” At a time when the cost of education is rising frustratingly fast, Khan Academy dares to be bolder.
It doesn’t require big, fancy schools. It doesn’t require an army of trained teachers, some of which may or may not be qualified for their job. It doesn’t even require students to leave the house. It only requires someone with a computer, an internet connection, and an ability to access a website. These days, those are skills that most kids learn to do right out of the womb.
That’s not to say it’s better in every way. There are some things that you can’t just learn by doing exercises online. You wouldn’t want a mechanic, plumber, or gynecologist only learning their trade through online videos. You’d want them to have some kind of training.
Even so, the value of having a cheap, effective way of educating young children cannot be understated. Beyond simply knowing how much to tip at a restaurant, education helps children think and reason for themselves. It helps them make sense of a world where the Kardashians are celebrities and Johnny Depp still makes movies.
We, as a species, need societies of kids and adults who can think. Until we perfect neural implants, education is still going to be a challenge. That’s why innovations like Khan Academy are so valuable.