The Future of Education

While education is fast becoming a business and the profit oriented proposition is gathering momentum the world over, a silent revolution is also taking place elsewhere. A revolution so powerful that it is threatening to shake the very foundations of the former! And the man who has sparked this idea is none other than Salman Khan, a half Bangladeshi half Indian American, and an educator par excellence – for what else do you call someone who has successfully delivered over 85 million lessons?

Check his website, www.khanacademy.org and the teaching fraternity as well as eager beaver students are sure to find remarkable educational videos in its online library ranging from a host of subjects; from Algebra to Arithmetic, Geometry to Trigonometry, Calculus to Finance; Banking to Economics; Art History to Civics; Healthcare, Medicine, Biology, Chemistry and Physics. There are many videos for competitive exam preparation too – SAT, GMAT, IIT-JEE. What is so special about these videos? They are concise and clear. Most of them are for just about 10 minutes, the time frame that we can maintain focus and attention. They can help students to learn by themselves. There are ones meant just for practice. Most importantly, they are available FREE. Teachers can use them online in the classroom or can download them and use it whenever, wherever. It is up to the teacher to use the video creatively either as in the class as class work or make it part of home work.

It goes to the credit of Salman Khan that his videos have been clicked by over 50 million people and now his online library has over 2700 videos. Till recently he has been the sole narrator for his videos and he acknowledges that he runs this mammoth project singularly through donations – the major donors being Google and the Bill Gates Foundation.

How has the free videos affected the education scenario? Many schools in the US have integrated these videos into their classroom teaching and learning. The finest effect however has been the fact that many top colleges, universities and institutes have started offering free online courses. For instance, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) of which Salman Khan used to be a student, has offered over 2000 of its courses freely available on the World Wide Web. Other premier institutes like Carnegie Mellon, Yale, John Hopkins and Stanford have also thrown open their courses online and that too at no cost, so that they won’t be left far behind. And the information thirsty, knowledge hungry learners have lapped it all up, smiling contentedly like Cheshire cats! So much so that three most popular computer science courses – Introduction to Machine Learning, Introduction to Data Bases and Artificial Intelligence were offered by Stanford free this fall completely sea changing and reinventing the way education is delivered.  The last one – on Artificial Intelligence – had such huge demand with over 70,000 people registering for it in the first few days!

Which takes us back to the title – what is the future of education system as a business model? If the free education online revolution catches up, there is a serious threat to this model. This does not mean that online education alone will thrive – it just means that a harmonious and clever blend of good teaching & teachers, web tools and inexpensive courses will thrive. Ample food for thought!

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