Education 2.0: The Khan Academy

Salman Khan Academy
Salman Khan is offering free, world-class education from his wooden desk made of antique telephone poles in the heart of Silicon Valley. - Photo by Sahar Habib Ghazi

MOUNTAIN VIEW: What if your child could get a free, world-class education from a man with an MBA from Harvard and three Bachelors degrees in Math, Electrical Engineering, and Computer Science from MIT?

Salman Khan is offering just that from his wooden desk made of antique telephone poles in the heart of Silicon Valley.

“My life gets to be this dude who gets to learn everything, and teach it,” said Khan smiling with a tablet and computer in front of him. “When I’m 80 (years old), it will be a lot more satisfying to think that a billion kids benefited.”

He is known as Sal in the valley, and Bill Gates famously called him “his favourite teacher.”

Forget classrooms, black boards, textbooks and teachers. Now students around the world, even in Pakistan, can learn everything from calculus, organic chemistry, finance and even the French revolution, by logging on to through their Facebook or Gmail account.

The Khan way

“A lot of my own educational experience was spent frustrated with how information was conveyed in textbooks and lectures.” explains Khan on his website. “I felt like fascinating and intuitive concepts were almost intentionally being butchered into pages and pages of sleep-inducing text and monotonic, scripted lectures.”

In simple 10-15 minute videos, Khan’s friendly and excited voice leads you through concepts as he pens colourful illustrations on his tablet. After watching the videos, students can check to see if they have grasped the concepts by taking practice tests. As they pass practice tests they earn points and “badges worth bragging about”; by quickly and correctly answering five exercise problems in a row, students earn 100 points, and a Meteorite badge called “picking up steam,” and by quickly and correctly answering 42 exercise problems in a row, students can earn an Earth badge called sub-light speed. “(We are) adding layers to make learning more meaningful,” said Khan from behind his desk.

As students’ work on problems or watch videos, the Khan Academy tracks their progress and generates graphical data that each user can privately access. “The next step is, peer-to-peer learning; more immersive games, a shared white board.”

The site has even been piloted in two public schools in California, where 5th grade students log on to in class, and their teachers track their real-time progress from their desks. Whenever a student gets stuck on a problem, the teacher goes to their seat, and gives them individualised attention.

“In the future, people will look at this as the right way to learn” said Shantanu, Khan Academy’s President and Sal’s childhood friend. “We met at a (inter-school) Math competition.” They ended up at MIT for college, where they were roommates. “We used to compete for how many classes we could take.” Shantanu left his job at McKinsey to join Khan about a year ago.

How it started

Khan’s family is of Bengali origin and he grew up in New Orleans, which he says is “the one part of the US that looks like India: big roaches, humid weather, corrupt government and spicy food.”

Six years ago, Khan was working as a manager of a hedge fund in Boston, when he found out that some of his younger cousins were having trouble with Math in school. He started tutoring them long distance and soon realised that a lot of people were benefiting from his YouTube videos.

“I quit my day job as of September 2009 to work on this full-time and was digging into my savings until recently. In May 2010, some generous individuals gave large enough gifts for me to take a salary.”

Till date, Khan Academy has delivered 45.5 million lessons worldwide, now operates as a non-profit, and all of its site's resources are available to anyone.

From the website: “it doesn't matter if you are a student, teacher, home-schooler, principal, adult returning to the classroom after 20 years, or a friendly alien just trying to get a leg up in earthly biology. The Khan Academy's materials and resources are available to you completely free of charge.”

So where does Pakistan come in?

“Where the content is right now, we can take people who have the literacy (in Pakistan) and make them more competitive with the middle class. We are ready for that,” said the dynamic teacher who is married to a Pakistani and even celebrated one of his wedding functions in Karachi.

Khan has already started tackling the highly competitive Indian Institute of Technology entrance exams called IITJEE.  And he says he would like to get to past O-levels and A-levels exams as well, “at minimum (we can offer) tutoring back.”

Currently, students pay hundreds of thousands of rupees at tutoring centres across Pakistan to simply prepare themselves for these exams.

Khan and his team are also working on a translation project. According to Bilal Musharraf, their Dean of Translation, the goal is to have 1000 videos ready in 10 different languages in a year or two. And the project is mostly volunteer-driven. Khan academy offers best practices of “how-to-dub or re-do Sal’s existing videos, and volunteers take it from there. At present, someone in Japan is working on an Indonesian playlist and engineering students in Saudi Arabia are working on an Arabic playlist. In a matter of months, hundreds of videos have already been translated. You can now learn the Khan way in Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Arabic, Bengali, Cantonese French, German, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Polish Sinhalese, Tamil, Thai and Urdu.

But Khan doesn’t plan on stopping just at translation to create his global classroom. He wants a classroom, where there is more than one kind of narrative. “I am really eager to do those issues, (like) the 1971 War, Kashmir, and Palestine,” said Khan. “ I think there is an opportunity to really give balance.  Invite thoughtful people on either side to discuss. I think it undermines government’s ability to give one narrative. It would be hugely powerful in undermining extreme views.”

Sahar Habib Ghazi is a 2011 Journalism Knight Fellow at Stanford University and blogs at

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Comments (37) Closed

Noman Sheikh
Apr 26, 2011 02:39pm
The videos on Salman's site are absolutely fantastic - extremely easy to understand. Excellent stuff!
Fatima Nasir
Apr 26, 2011 02:51pm
Amazing!Beautiful! I love this website!
Apr 26, 2011 04:10pm
love live pakistan <3
Apr 26, 2011 04:56pm
i already joined him on fb. thanx a lot for the info.
Sameer Shaikh
Apr 26, 2011 06:07pm
Please spread the word to all your family members, friends, relatives or acquaintances. Let us educate all of Pakistan in the highest quality education! May Allah bless Salman Khan!
Apr 26, 2011 06:33pm
Totally Praiseworthy.
Amjad Raja
Apr 26, 2011 06:48pm
Thats exactly what is needed . Don't have the words to say THANKS TO KHAN !!!!!!!!!! EDUCATION : is the KEY to Pakistan's progress and power to people to make the RIGHT decisions and come out of era of darknesss to be a prosperous, moderate, and developed nation !!!!!! A NEW PAKISTAN !!!
Apr 26, 2011 06:58pm
This is so cool! Now the unprivileged children can learn how to read and write, without us having to pay charity organizations! May Allah bless Salman Khan.
Apr 26, 2011 07:37pm
sweet :)
Apr 26, 2011 09:14pm
He is already an inspiration and our pride. Continue spreading the word and get your kids to learn more from his website.
Apr 26, 2011 09:47pm
Its been quite some time now since i stated using sal khans vdos to learn and im glad i found him. I always wanted to revise my chem and math concepts that I had learned in college and univ and ive just foudn the haven where i can get it all and much more. This site is a must for not only students but for all those who are thirsty for knowledge and hats off to this guy for quenching our thirst for free !!!
Apr 26, 2011 10:17pm
Alhumdulillah, it is so inspirational! May Allah(SWT) bless Salman Khan for his sincere efforts! Ameen!
Touseef Haider Zaidi
Apr 26, 2011 10:20pm
Thanks for an awsome entertaining learning experience Now if i can only find some one to compete with hey hey i got my first star !!
Murtaza Jamal
Apr 26, 2011 11:09pm
Great work Salman. You work is a great service to all who want to learn. My only advice to you, is stay focused pure education and not delve into the political landscape i.e. 1971 war, Palestine etc. as mentioned in the article.
Shankar Lal
Apr 26, 2011 11:42pm
Great work by Salman... God bless u man....
Syed J Ahmed
Apr 27, 2011 12:18am
A friend introduced me to his website in college and I learned alot watching his videos on chemistry, I try to look watch his videos after every lesson and it's really helpful. Definately worth watching
Asif Naim
Apr 27, 2011 12:44am
MashAllah. Not only is he brilliant, but he is using it to better mankind. He is a legend.
Apr 27, 2011 03:21am
Salman Khan is an inspiration for all of us. Khwarizmi Science Society (KSS) is working for the promotion of Science among the public in Pakistan. We have recently started a project of producing videos for the science subjects of FSc syllabus (later matric and also classes will be covered too). The project name is Khwarizmi maktab. Our target audiences are students who are making a transition from matric syllabus in Urdu to FSc syllabus in English. Videos will be available for free from KSS website ( and KSS youtube channel (khwarizmisciencesoc) by this summer. For details please contact: Shahar Habib, you are welcome to contact us, and we will be happy to share the details with you.
Apr 27, 2011 04:29am
beats Sallu bhai from bollywood :-) joke aside zindabad we should all we can to promote this site in pak good work mr. khan
Apr 27, 2011 04:37am
karachi, how will unprivileged children get access to a computer, let alone internet. see
naveed shoukat
Apr 27, 2011 06:56am
naveed shoukat
Apr 27, 2011 06:57am
superb! salman khan had done onerous job
Gary Sahi
Apr 27, 2011 07:13am
Salutations to Mr. Khan for doing the best that can be done for humanity.
Muhammad Ajmal
Apr 27, 2011 08:21am
A real gift to humanity.
Robert Stith
Apr 27, 2011 08:25am
Love the website, I work at a appliance store in Michigan(Abc Warehouse), I share Khan Academy with any customer who will listen. I also shared it 4th grade class at Freeman Elementary in Flint,Michigan. I will continue to be a great spokesperson for the Khan Academy. I've also completed 42 modules in 26 days. Being 56 years old, I was very rusty when it came to math, but now the conversation around the dinner table has changed with my wife and my two 4.0 daughters who love math!!!! Thanks from for letting the old dude back in the game:)
Dr Shoaib
Apr 27, 2011 08:43am
Excellent. May ALLAH bless him and his team mates who are doing a marvellous job
Apr 27, 2011 09:44am
Khwarizimi science society has started maktab programe to make the video lectures like salman khan. The lectures will b avilable oh khwarizimi science society website soon.
Munawar Hameed Manga
Apr 27, 2011 09:49am
I would like to join you Mr. Khan. Congratulations and good luck ! Munawar Hameed Managalwala
Apr 27, 2011 10:39am
The world in general should be in-debted for such a pratical and general approach towrds charity.
Shamsul Haq
Apr 27, 2011 11:27am
it is great to hear about this educational scientist Mr.Salman Khan it is just great coud a teacher like me contact easely with Khan to speak to him and say we are proud of you .Or salma leave a message by my gmail Id .
Iqbal Barcha
Apr 27, 2011 11:35am
This is awsome!!! a very useful resource for all those who could not have been able to learn otherwise. Mr. Khan's idea is simply brilliant and the most innovative, and impressive ofcourse
Mohammad Iqbal
Apr 27, 2011 11:49am
Salman Khan you have done a wonderful service to the Education for the whole World. Keep it up.
Apr 27, 2011 06:18pm
What a great gift to humanity indeed !!!
Apr 27, 2011 06:57pm
Wonderful work by khan. Really admirable.
ahmad waleed
Apr 27, 2011 08:54pm
really good effort.
Apr 28, 2011 08:51am
Many many salute to Mr. Salman Khan. My prays are with you. May you live long and healthy and continue such noble and good deed :) With best regards, Benazeer Abbas
Muhammad Riaz Gondal
Apr 29, 2011 09:50am
Marvellous works speak too high. Keep it up Gentlemen to boost the students