Sal Khan creates an online academy to educate anyone in the world for free

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Sal Khan has some interesting insights into what constitutes a compelling dinner conversation.

For the moment, he is sensitive to the “amazing” similarities between Greek, Latin, Germanic languages ​​and ancient Sanskrit, as well as the fact that Iran and Ireland are the only countries whose names mean “land of the Aryans”.

“It’s always my favorite thing to share in conversations,” said the founder of Khan Academy, a free online learning platform serving 15 million people a month. “The other thing is you can hypothermia (and die) in 80 degree water.”

Khan smiles.

“I’m a nerd,” said Khan, who is nominated for the 2018 Visionary of the Year award sponsored by The Chronicle. The winner of the award will receive a $25,000 scholarship that can be applied to the cause of their choice.

In Silicon Valley, nerds like Khan — with companies whose users number in the millions — are often billionaires. While Khan isn’t poor, he falls far short of any list featuring big-budget tech moguls.

He probably could have been rich with the idea, but when he had the vision for Khan Academy, he wanted it to be free.

The mission – free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.

This single mission of the company, unchanged since he founded it in 2008, is displayed on Khan Academy’s website as well as on the walls of its headquarters in Mountain View.

By the way, Khan said he wrote this mission statement in about 20 minutes as he rushed through an Internal Revenue Service tax form to establish the nonprofit. It stuck, and it’s his life’s work.

“We still haven’t followed up,” he added. “It’s a big goal.”

He still made a big dent.

The online business has an oft-repeated origin story. In 2004, Khan began helping his cousin with math, remote tutoring sessions that involved the phone and an interactive notepad so she could see what he was writing.

It was a success and more family and friends wanted to participate, so he started writing software for math practice and tracking everyone’s progress. He also began creating videos, which he uploaded, in which he wrote on a digital notepad while his voiceover explained the problem.

He realized he had something as other viewers flocked to the videos.

With the general concept of making education accessible, he created the Khan Academy and eventually attracted major donors: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Google, Comcast, Bank of America, The Walt Disney Company, The Broad Foundation, AT&T and Oracle, including others.

Over the past 10 years, the site has grown exponentially, with over 62 million registered users as well as some who don’t register, and over 1 billion video views. The academy is used in more than 190 countries and the content is translated into 18 languages.

In addition to math, subjects include science, history, economics, finance, grammar, preschool learning, SAT prep, civics, and more. Teaching and practice modules offer measurement and geometry for kindergarten and college students in multivariate calculus, art history, computer programming, and global finance.

Want an introduction to bitcoin, mortgage-backed securities or the art of Oceania? That’s all there too.

Salman Khan founder of Khan Academy, a non-profit educational organization established in 2006, speaking to staff during an onsite meeting at company headquarters Wednesday, January 17, 2018 in San Francisco, CA.Pierre DaSilva

“They made the world smaller,” said Ken McNeely, president of AT&T California. “He really found a way to level the playing field and democratize education around the world.”

One of Khan’s favorite success stories concerns an Afghan girl who secretly studied for the SAT at Khan Academy and then snuck off to Pakistan to take it. The young woman is now at university in the United States.

“It’s like the sci-fi version of the vision, but it happens,” he said.

But Khan, 41, is still not satisfied. “In my own lifetime I want to see a billion children, this Khan Academy is an important resource for them,” he said. “It’s something I want to dedicate my life to.”

While videos and practice problems were Khan’s staple, his academy now includes College Board-sponsored SAT prep and Bank of America-sponsored financial literacy. Companies get acknowledgments on the site, but there is no advertising.

Khan exemplifies a trend in technology, with investors and entrepreneurs interested in making a difference rather than just making money, said Nora Silver, founder of the Center for Social Sector Leadership at UC Berkeley Haas. School of Business.

He is a great example of someone who has made a big difference.

Khan Academy “has really made learning new subjects, and even difficult subjects, accessible to everyone around the world,” she said. “Think about that.”

Early critics questioned the concept and whether the idea was intended to eliminate teachers and traditional classrooms. They complained that the instructional videos didn’t necessarily teach students to think critically.

But in recent years, those criticisms have faded, and Khan Academy has become an integral part of the education landscape, used by teachers to help introduce or reinforce concepts and by families to soothe crying fits. confusing homework.

The non-profit recently branched out into the brick-and-mortar world, opening an independent private school in the space downstairs from its headquarters. The Khan Lab School develops a personalized learning model for all ages, inspired by Khan’s idea of ​​education described in his book “One World Schoolhouse”.

Tuition for the lab school ranges from $27,000 to $32,000, depending on grade level. Two of Khan’s three children attend.

But the heart of Khan Academy still lies to a large extent in the online site and specifically in the instructional videos, including the thousands that Khan has made himself. In each, his voice is distinct and enthusiastic as he solves the infamous potato question on the 2017 AP Calculus test or describes early world history.

Strangers sometimes recognize him in the street just by his voice.

He’s often asked which video or subject is his favorite, and it’s often the one he’s been working on recently. But in a hurry, he will admit that he is especially likely to share Sanskrit history with foreigners.

In a nearly 10-minute video on ‘Sanskrit connections to English’, he describes the Sanskrit word dyauspitrwhich literally means heavenly father.

“Some of you might get goosebumps now when you see where this is going,” he says in the video before linking in pronunciation and sound with Zeus Pater in Greek and Jupiter in Latin. “The way it comes out of your mouth is very, very, very, very, very close.”

Sitting in his office, surrounded by chalkboards covered in lists and ideas, Khan seemed to relish the concept of a common global language, as well as, perhaps, the potential to impress fellow diners.

“The world,” Khan said with a smile, “is incredibly connected.”

Jill Tucker is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @jilltucker

About VisionSF

This is one of six finalist profiles for The Chronicle’s fourth annual Visionary of the Year award. This honor honors leaders who strive to make the world a better place and drive social and economic change by employing new, innovative business models and practices. The finalists were selected by a nominating committee that included Emmett Carson, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation; Ron Conway, angel investor and philanthropist; John Diaz, editorial page editor of The Chronicle; Steve Malnight, senior vice president of strategy and policy at Pacific Gas and Electric Co., a program sponsor; Ken McNeely, president of AT&T California, a program sponsor; Libby Schaaf, Mayor of Oakland; Charlotte Shultz, Chief of Protocol for the City and County of San Francisco; and George Shultz, former US Secretary of State.

Chronicle Editor Jeff Johnson, Managing Editor Audrey Cooper and Diaz will select the winner, which will be announced in late March.

For more information: www.sfchronicle.com/visionsf

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