If asked, how many parents would like to have their children taught by the same teacher who tutors Bill Gates' children? How many would want their children, when they were ready for college, to learn from the brightest minds at elite schools like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology?
This probably sounds like a fantasy, and an expensive one at that. But it's actually the new reality of American education. And it's free.
Parents who want their children to be taught by Bill Gates' favorite teacher should visit Khan Academy (KhanAcademy.org), a nonprofit organization that is committed to “providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere.”
Five years ago, Sal Khan, a Harvard MBA and hedge fund analyst, began teaching his cousins by uploading video tutorials onto YouTube. His lessons attracted a viewership and his hobby blossomed into Khan Academy — a website offering more than 2,000 lectures on a wide range of subjects, spanning all levels of education.
This instructional method is groundbreaking. Students viewing Khan's short lectures have the chance to pause, rewind and repeat lessons if they don't understand. Some public schools now partner with Khan Academy and assign his lectures as homework, realizing their value and efficiency.
Khan Academy lectures have now been viewed more than 43 million times. On average, 70,000 visitors view Khan's lectures each day. Anyone, anywhere with Internet access can access his tutorials for free.
Now, if your child starts practicing her arithmetic, algebra and calculus with first-class teachers like Khan, she'll likely be on the road to college. That's good news, but many parents find the idea of paying for a college daunting. Yet while tuition costs are soaring, the growing availability of free online college course content could soon fix that.
For example, in 2007, MIT launched its “OpenCourseWare” initiative providing free online access to videos of lectures, course notes and other instructional materials. After just four years, the project is having a global impact. The site features more than 2,000 courses, at least 700 of which are translated into other languages. More than 100 million Web visitors had watched MITs free lectures as of 2010. Many other universities are now following MIT's example.
Of course, free education resources like Khan Academy and MIT's aren't displacing traditional schooling yet. But it's easy to imagine how the growing availability of free world-class educational resources will revolutionize American education. For example, given the increased popularity of credit-by-examination programs like Advanced Placement or College-Level Examination Program tests, motivated self-learners now have an opportunity to use online instruction to complete their education at their own pace.
For decades, policymakers have struggled and spent untold billions trying to ensure that all students have access to a world-class education. But solutions have proved elusive.
Thanks to innovators like Salmon Khan and forward-thinking schools like MIT, the answer may finally be here and at a price that's impossible to beat.