Book of the Month

Back to December 2012 Ed Reporter

Book of the Month

The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined by Salman Khan, The Hachette Group, 2012, $26.99


When Salman Khan looks at children he sees “uniqueness, curiosity, and creativity.” He believes learning can be stifled in conventional classrooms where a teacher “broadcasts” a “one-pace-fits-few” lecture while students sit at their desks and passively listen.

Reading The One World Schoolhouse is exciting. Salman Khan’s goal and methodology for students of all ages to become enthusiastic, creative, life-long learners is revolutionary. He advocates differentiated education with students moving ahead at their own pace and mastering each incremental level before moving on.

When Khan’s cousin needed math tutoring, the M.I.T. graduate helped her from a distance, using technology. Then he began putting his lessons on YouTube. Now he has delivered nearly 215 million lessons to students on a wide variety of subjects and has pilot programs in school districts.

Yes, Khan’s system uses computer learning. But it is not just a student sitting in front of a screen for hours on end. Rather, a student works at a computer for 1-2 hours a day. The rest of the day is spent applying what was learned. Technology is one tool in his classroom, a classroom which can be anywhere in the world.

Khan uses tests as a diagnostic tool to identify gaps in a student’s mastery of a subject. He fights the concept of testing as a way to track students who sometimes end up in remedial classes. He says this sort of testing filters out “differentness,” which is sometimes creativity.

In today’s educational system, 75% is a passing grade. Khan finds this unacceptable and favors 100% mastery. Even a score of 95% means 5% of an important concept is missed. Instead of ignoring that 5% deficiency, Khan’s system remedies it. What is missed is reviewed and mastered. In this manner, all students reach proficiency in what they attempt. Students labeled as remedial have leapt ahead in math, sometimes attaining multiple grade levels in a short period of time.

Khan asks if it is not better to fully comprehend algebra than to have a superficial understanding of algebra, trigonometry and calculus?

Far from sidelining teachers, in the Khan model the role of the teacher is elevated to a mentor who provides quality, helpful interactions and challenging applications of concepts learned.

The mission statement of the Khan Academy is to “provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.” In a world with broadening inequality and instability in some developing nations, education can be a game changer.