Education entrepreneur Khan to speak

In a public event on April 3, the Scarsdale Schools Education Foundation in conjunction with the Siegel Family Endowment will sponsor Salman Khan, the creator and educator behind the popular learning system Khan Academy, to speak about his entrepreneurial journey and his website’s impact on education.

Without ever meeting his students face to face Khan is able to help millions of students from around the world learn everything from basic algebra and world history to microeconomics and computer science. What started as a one-person operation in his walk-in closet, Khan Academy has received multiple million dollar grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Khan’s instructional YouTube videos have been viewed more than 1.6 billion times.

“A lot of people have associated us with videos I originally made for my family and put up on YouTube,” Khan told the Inquirer. “The core of Khan Academy, both before I made the videos and then after we got some of our first nonprofit funding as an organization, was really to work on a practice platform.”

Khan Academy is a website that helps learners engage in material in a mastery framework. Featuring blackboard style videos with Khan’s commentary and online learning modules, the nonprofit hopes to give students the basic building blocks so they can successfully expand into new material.

“That’s why we see so many children, from all demographics, around the world — regardless of whether they are [in] well-resourced schools or under-resourced schools — hit walls in courses like calculus or algebra,” said Khan. “It’s not because those courses are difficult, and it’s not because the kids aren’t bright, it’s not because they don’t have great teachers, it’s because they might have showed up at algebra with significant gaps in their seventh-grade math or eighth-grade math [class] and it’s very hard to fill those [gaps] in a traditional fixed-pace model.”

Jerry Crisci, director of instructional technology and innovation for the Scarsdale Public Schools, believes that Khan, and other entrepreneurs who will come to the district as part of the Scarsdale Schools Education Foundation’s speaker series, will inspire students to be business-minded.

“Scarsdale has a reputation that I think is well deserved, of providing excellent education through our teachers, and the environment and programs that we offer to students,” Crisci said. “We believe students in the future, no matter what [their] career is, will have to have some element of entrepreneurship in it to help [them] be successful.”

Although the main focus of Khan’s talk is on his entrepreneurial journey, the talk will also enable students to think differently about the traditional education system.

“The main focus is on entrepreneurship,” said Crisci. “The idea is that we don’t want to rest on our laurels; we want to make sure we provide teachers with other ideas.”

Khan’s visit comes at a tumultuous time in traditional education, when allegations came forward that athletic coaches at multiple colleges were accepting payments from influential parents for their children’s admission.

“The whole scandal just shows the extreme form that it takes,” said Khan on the investigation, known as Operation Varsity Blues. “I think the silver lining of the scandal is that … it’s going to have a chilling effect on people.”

Khan said that although the majority of innovation in the world comes from for-profit enterprises, he wants students to understand that the lifecycles of such enterprises are limited.

“I want this to be more than just a free learning website, I want this to be an institution,” said Khan about his own nonprofit. “I want this to be something that can be around for hundreds of years, that can reach billions of people.”

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