NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Today’s blog is for parents with school-age children. Choose. Would you prefer your child attend a school with a very low student-to-teacher ratio? Or would you allow your child to be taught totally on-line, with lessons that are shared with hundreds of other students, delivered by a world-class teacher?
In America, we value one-on-one individual attention. There’s always been some evidence that our thinking is wrong. In China and India, even at the grade school level, the student-teacher ratio is often 50-1. Their students consistently outperform ours. We’ve written off the differences as cultural – those cultures put a higher value on studying and have fewer of the distractions and social problems than we do. Broken families and x-box may be our excuse, but all excuses are irrelevant when our society has to compete globally.
And now comes Kahn Academy into the debate. Students log on, watch a video, and are taught highly sophisticated math concepts in short 10-15 minute lessons. No interaction from the teacher… actually, they don’t even see the teacher… but they do better on standardized tests than if they were in a traditional classroom.
What’s the difference? The teacher. Kahn Academy was founded by Salman Kahn. He holds degrees from MIT and Harvard. He’s very smart, and he’s very gifted at explaining complicated ideas in simple, easy-to-understand bits. Anyone, anywhere can log on (for free), watch the videos, do some simple on-line problems, and learn the concepts. The academy offers videos in dozens of math and science subjects and is branching out to other areas.
Like many good ideas, this one started by accident. Kahn was asked by his uncle to tutor is younger niece who was struggling in math. He was in Boston; she was in New Orleans. So Kahn recorded her lessons on YouTube, and was surprised to see that other people were watching the videos, learning from them, and leaving positive comments. The idea took off from there.
This, of course, is nothing like what we think of as traditional ‘schooling’. Does it matter? Isn’t this an area where results matter, and process is irrelevant?
Or, think of it in different times. Your child could be in a traditional classroom with a dozen other students learning physics. Or your child could be on-line with 10,000 other people learning physics from Dr. Stephen Hawking or Albert Einstein. The better teacher is the better choice.
I’ve been thinking about this topic because last Sunday I saw a 60 Minutes feature on Kahn Academy. I found it fascinating. During the broadcast I also saw one of the Recall Walker TV commercials. Our governor was being shamed for cutting school funding and increasing class size. Does it matter? Not nearly as much as we think.
Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau
Here’s a link to Kahn Academy. All of their on-line lessons are free: