My generation is at an age where we begin to replace youthful optimism with feelings of nostalgia and longings for the good ole days. The older generation always thinks they are smarter, harder working, and better behaved than the younger one. Rarely is this true. Studies have proven that IQ scores actually increase from generation to generation. SAT scores have remained largely the same since decades ago despite the fact that the pool of test takers has grown much larger to include more middle and lower income students, as opposed to the small pool of mostly upper income students who took the test in years past. Additionally, minorities have made signficant gains toward closing the achievement gap, and teen pregnancies are at their lowest levels in 70 years. Another misconception is that we live in a time of never seen before lawlessness. This is also not true as crime is at all-time low.
No doubt, economically, we have fallen on tough times. This is exasperated by a crippling political climate where division has become political currency. I think one of truest signs of how different things are from our childhoods’ is how many fewer of our children, compared to us, will be driving their own cars as they enter their final years of high school. Nevertheless, there are other ways to measure quality of life, and there are still many reasons to be optimistic about the future.
Technologically we live in a truly exciting time. The information at our fingertips is enough to fill the entire library of congress 2,000 times over. Our technological capacity continues to grow exponentially, and we have barely started to scratch the surface on how best to use that capacity. One of the most effective ways we can put our current capabilities to use is finding ways to effectively deliver quality education to those who otherwise would not have access.
The website khanacademy.org is doing just that. Khanacademy is a non-profit educational website that’s stated mission is to provide “a free world-class education to anybody anywhere.” I first learned about Khanacademy watching a presentation on TED Talks. Now my daughter uses Khanacademy to supplement her elementary school curriculum. I’ve used it to better understand accounting principles that confront me in the workplace. I have even started relearning and learning junior high and high school mathematics. A few years ago I would have had to check out multiple books from the library and would not have had the benefit of watching a tailored lecture. Either that or pay over $100 per credit hour at the local community college. In other words, it barely would have been an option.
Khanacademy is no rinky dink website either. The lesson plans are clear and easy to follow, organized by subject with multiple visual aids to track your progression. Short lectures in the form of youtube videos are combined with practice questions to ensure retention and comprehension. Your’s or your child’s progress is charted as you complete the assigned tasks, and points are rewarded for the completion of those tasks. The points can be used as currency to buy avatars that are added to your profile. This is an especially effective motivator for my 8 year old daughter. Also, for reasons I can only speculate on, the youtube lectures are far easier to follow than a teacher in a classroom. Check out the following video for a brief example of a Khanacademy lecture:
Not only am I excited about how Khanacademy can improve individuals live’s, but by expanding the universe of knowledge this way, we also increase the chances of cultivating great thinkers and future geniuses. Khanacademy has exponentially increased our chances of finding the next Einstein; someone that can solve the most pressing and difficult scientific questions of our time. The cynical may scoff at this notion, pointing out that few will be motivated to use this tool, and the parents of the children that need it the most won’t take advantage. There is some truth to that. Surely, much of this will fall on deaf ears. None of that matters though, because it only takes one. One parent with enough foresight to see the value in tools such as Khanacademy.org can set their child on a path that could change the lives of millions or humanity as a whole. Imagine a situation where a teacher tells a classroom of third graders, one of those third graders is particularly curious, goes home, tries it out, breezes past his or her classmates to a fifth or sixth grade math level and goes on to become a great doctor. The internet and pioneers like the creators of Khanacademy are giving people the tools they need to not just level the playing field, but expand it. “What you know” just got a major boost in its losing battle against “who you know.”
And Khanacademy is expanding! Only a few months ago Khanacademy only covered math subjects. Now there are sections for Science & Economics, Humanities, and Test Prep. There is a Khan Medical Academy and they have even added a Computer Science section where you can learn Programming Basics. It could also help provide us with the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs! So please; parents, show your kids; teachers, tell your students; or if you know any parents or teachers, spread the word about Khanacademy.org. It could change the future.