Special Report

Why School Should Be More Like Summer Camp

Salman Khan, a rising star in the education world, has a vision for a new kind of classroom

(Jacket design by Anne Twomey/Portrait by Brad Swonetz)

In 2004, hedge fund analyst Salman Khan began tutoring his 12-year-old cousin, Nadia, in some basic math concepts. Since he lived in Boston and she in New Orleans, they spoke by telephone, and he used Yahoo! Doodle to work through specific problems.

As other family members requested his services, Khan began to post simple video lectures on YouTube. Khan realized he was on to something when strangers began leaving comments, thanking him for explaining things like systems of equations and geometry in a way that finally made sense.

In 2009, Khan quit his lucrative job to put all his efforts into Khan Academy. He founded the nonprofit with a lofty goal in mind: to provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.

Students from 234 countries and territories have logged on to Khan’s site to watch any number of his 3,400 video lectures on topics in math, science, computer science, economics and history. Teachers in some 15,000 classrooms now incorporate his lessons and software into their instruction.

In his new book The One World Schoolhouse, Khan totally reimagines education. He diagnoses the problems with our century-old model for education and envisions schools that better prepare students for today’s world.

Secretary Wayne Clough will interview Khan tomorrow about his refreshing ideas for education reform as part of a Smithsonian Associates event at the National Museum of the American Indian.

What does the school of the future look like, as you see it?

We can define it by what it is, or maybe by what it is not. You won’t have bells ringing every 50 minutes. You won’t have a state-mandated curriculum where all the students and all the teachers are all going at the same pace. Students are not going to be in these rooms where all the desks are pointed at the chalkboard and there is somebody lecturing at them.

What I imagine is much more open, collaborative workspaces. I imagine the students come in, and they work with their mentors. Their mentors will be both students, possibly older students or students who have shown maturity, and the master teachers. They will set goals. Based on those goals that they are trying to achieve, they have a rough allocation of how they might want to be spending their time. One day a student might want to go deep on trigonometry. Then, he or she might spend two weeks researching some problem in biology or writing a short story.

Both teachers and student mentors will be able to keep track and say, “Look, it’s great that you’ve spent the last month working on your novel. We think that is a really important life experience. But we think you need to invest a little bit more time in your core math skills.

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