M Ziauddin

It is time we declared education emergency in the country. In fact, we should have done this yesterday. An estimated 25 million of our schoolgoing children are out there on the streets or are already earning their keep for their families. Tragedy is, most of even those lucky enough to be in schools seem destined to remain economically unproductive and of no use in nation building process because of the very low quality of education being imparted to them in the government schools.

Lack of financial resources is said to be mainly what is making it impossible for the country to overcome this extremely sorry state of affairs in our education sector. We don’t have enough schools to cater for all our schoolgoing children and neither do we have enough number of properly trained teachers to impart quality education to students that get accommodated in the available schools.

There is hardly any hope of overcoming our chronic lack of resources in any foreseeable future. But then the fast paced, on-going developments taking place in the information and telecom technologies offer us a god-sent opportunity to accomplish within the available resources the task of sending all our schoolgoing children to classrooms and give them quality education.

This brings us to two names: Tania Aidrus, an American of Pakistani origin and Salman Khan, an American of Bangladesh origin.

Tania Aidrus has created quite a buzz for quitting her job as an Executive of Google to join Digital Pakistan Initiative. Welcome home, Tania! She was the Chief of Staff and Head of Strategic Initiatives on the Next Billion Users (NBU) team at Google which is focused on building new products and services that are aimed at addressing the emerging trends and needs of users in growth markets.

Tania also co-founded a mobile health diagnosis company called ClickDiagnostics, focused on connecting rural patients in emerging markets to doctors globally.

She holds an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management and a BSc from Brandeis University.

In her own words, she wants to “put Pakistan on the map” as far as technology and innovation are concerned.

The five strategic basics which Tania says will form the basis of her new digital initiative:

• Access and Connectivity that ensures every Pakistani has access to the internet that is a fundamental right that we need to make available universally and specially to underserved populations.

• Digital Infrastructure that creates the ability to do most daily tasks using smart-phones in a secure and faster manner.

• E-Government that digitises intra-government operations and processes towards a paperless and efficient environment and also digitises government services for citizens and businesses for better delivery.

• Digital Skilling and Literacy that enables our tech graduates to secure relevant jobs. A majority of our tech graduates today cannot compete globally because our curriculum is outdated and barring them from monetising those skills.

• Innovation and Entrepreneurship that provides an enabling environment for startups to flourish.

Salman Khan tutored in 2002-03 one of his cousins in mathematics on the Internet using a service called Yahoo! Doodle Images. After a while, Khan’s other cousins began to use his tutoring service. Due to the demand, Khan decided to make his videos watchable on the Internet, so he published his content on YouTube. Later, he used a drawing application called SmoothDraw, and now uses a Wacom tablet to draw using ArtRage. The video tutorials were recorded on his computer.

Khan is an MIT graduate with Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in Course 6 (electrical engineering and computer science), and another bachelor’s degree in Course 18 (mathematics). Khan also holds a Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School.

In 2002, Khan was a summer intern at PARC. From 2003 to late 2009, Khan worked as a hedge fund analyst at Connective Capital Management.

The popularity of his educational videos on the video-sharing website prompted Khan to quit his job as a financial analyst in late 2009. He moved his focus to developing his YouTube channel, Khan Academy, full-time with the aid of close friend Josh Gefner. Khan consequently received sponsorship from Ann Doerr, the wife of John Doerr.

His videos received worldwide interest from both students and non-students, with more than 458 million views in the first number of years.

Khan Academy is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organisation, mostly funded by donations coming from philanthropic organisations. In 2010, Google donated $2 million (Hope Tania Andrus remembers) for creating new courses and translating content into other languages, as part of their Project 10 programme. In 2015, AT&T contributed $2.25 million to Khan Academy for mobile versions of the content accessible through apps. 

Khan Academy’s website aims to provide a personalised learning experience, mainly built on the videos which are hosted on YouTube. The website is meant to be used as a supplement to its videos, because it includes other features such as progress tracking, practice exercises, and teaching tools. The material can also be accessed through mobile applications.

The videos display a recording of drawings on an electronic blackboard, which are similar to the style of a teacher giving a lecture. The narrator describes each drawing and how they relate to the material being taught. Non-profit groups have distributed offline versions of the videos to rural areas in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Videos range from all subjects covered in school and for all grades from kindergarten up to high school. The Khan Academy website also hosts content from educational YouTube channels and organisations such as Crash Course and the Museum of Modern Art. It also provides online courses for preparing for standardised tests, including the SAT and MCAT and released LSAT preparation lessons in 2018.

Khan Academy videos have been translated into several languages, with close to 20,000 subtitle translations available. These translations are mainly volunteer-driven with help from international partnerships. In 2015, Khan Academy teamed up with Pixar to create a new course called Pixar in a Box, which teaches how the skills you learn in school help workers at Pixar.

In 2018, Khan Academy created an application called ‘Khan Academy Kids’. It is for young two-year-old to six-year-old children to learn basic skills before progressing to grade school.

Khan Academy has been criticised because its creator, Salman Khan, lacks a formal background or qualifications in pedagogy, or teaching. Statements made in several videos have been questioned for their technical accuracy, especially in the area of history. In response to these criticisms, the organisation has corrected errors in its videos, expanded its faculty and formed a network of over 200 content experts.

In an interview in January 2016, Khan defended the value of Khan Academy online lectures while acknowledging their limitations: “I think they’re valuable, but I’d never say they somehow constitute a complete education.” Khan Academy positions itself as a supplement to in-class learning, with the ability to improve the effectiveness of teachers by freeing them from traditional lectures and giving them more time to tend to individual students’ needs.

Khan Academy has gained recognition both nationally and internationally:

* In April 2012, the founder and executive director of Khan Academy, Salman Khan, was listed among the TIME’s 100 Most Influential People for 2012.

* Khan was one of five winners of the 2014 Heinz Award. His award was in the area of “Human Condition.”

* In 2016, Khan Academy won a Shorty Award for Best in Education.

Khan Academy (khanacademy.org) is located at Mountain View, California, US. As of 2016, it had 180 employees.

Learning on Khan Academy is always free. All of Khan Academy’s library of trusted, standards-aligned videos, articles, practice questions and lessons are completely free for anyone who wants to use them.  

Khan Academy offers following subjects and more.

Math, Early math, Math, Math by grade. Preschool, Math by grade, Science & engineering, Physics, Science & engineering, Computing, Computer programming, Computing.

With math exercises stretching from basic arithmetic through advanced calculus and a focus on personalised learning, Khan Academy is said to be a valuable resource for homeschooling families.

Khan Academy is said to be most useful when it teaches and tests subjects which are primarily grounded in numbers. One realised this after taking courses in statistics, economics and biology, and finding the lessons in statistics most effective.

Khan Academy is not an accredited school and work done on the site does not count towards a diploma or degree programme.

Khan Academy is best used as a supplement to your normal schooling, whether that is homeschooling or a traditional school.

The question is, can Tania and Salman using their respective technical resources join hands and reach out to all our school going children with no exception and provide them access to at least quality primary education at a minimum of cost?

Perhaps one is jumping to conclusions, but then again perhaps Tania Andrus with her digitizing skills innovate and bring about a revolutionary change at minimum of cost for our schoolgoing children!