Many of us had a favorite teacher back in elementary or high school – someone who inspired us, who made learning fun and easy. Under the old brick school building model, that great teacher could only influence a relative handful of students at a time. Remember how lucky you felt having Mrs. Smith for sixth grade math, and how sorry you were for your best friend who was stuck in Mr. Jones’ class instead?
Today your Mrs. Smith could teach millions of kids at once. No complaining about crowded classrooms, because she can teach you and everyone else online in your own homes. She doesn’t even need a teaching degree, just a love of teaching and a firm grasp of the subject matter. In-person classroom teachers still have a role, but so much learning now can go on elsewhere that classrooms eventually may become the exception, rather than the educational norm.
Mrs. Smith currently goes by the name of Sal Khan. Mr. Khan fell into education when he tutored his own cousin in mathematics over the Internet in 2004. Others saw those lessons and asked for his help, so eventually he quit his day job and started the non-profit Khan Academy* to teach children and adults through what have become thousands of lessons on multiple topics – all at no cost to the students.
Watching Mr. Khan teach, it’s not hard to envision many Sal Khans eventually inspiring new generations to learn in new, exciting, and inexpensive ways.
*Khan Academy was featured on the March 11, 2012 CBS show 60 Minutes.
Steve Buckstein is Founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.