Khan Academy and a Heretical Thought

[disclaimer]This is a ramble, full of internal inconsistencies, born of a weary mind.  I post it into the ether like fresh meat thrown to a pack of wolves - go ahead and tear it to shreds![/disclaimer]

I guess you all know about Khan Academy.  If not: it's one man's collection of 2100 video lectures on maths, science, finance and more - all freely available.  In maths, it purports to provide a full progression from the basics of counting and place value up to some areas of university maths.

Bill Gates has endorsed it, whilst many educators are throwing their hands up in horror.

A heretical thought that popped into my head today.    What if young people decide one day that they want to spend all of the limited amount of time they devote to maths actually learning how to do maths instead of learning how to collaborate effectively, design bridges, play Mario Kart, be good time-keepers, produce presentations or whatever latest thing might be? And what if they then start using Khan Academy in large numbers to fulfil their needs? And what if they find that Khan Academy is actually much more useful to them than their school maths lessons in providing them with the exam passes that will open the doors to employment and/or further education?

How relevant will school maths look then?

As I look back over my 20 years of teaching, I can't think of that many youngsters who have been motivated enough to spend time at home on maths beyond homework assignments, so it's probably just a crazy, passing thought.

The broader purposes that we pursue as educators these days (under the banner of "A Curriculum for Excellence" in Scotland) are very noble - more than that, they address the real needs of young people growing up into a world of accelerating change.  But how good are we are getting buy-in to these broader purposes from parents, employers and the learners themselves?  Without that buy-in the project runs the risk of becoming irrelevant despite it's worthiness - because our customers can now get what they think they need elsewhere.


  1. An interesting article. I "struggle" with the same thoughts at times. Are Khan Academy and similar sites responding to a need for "actually learning maths" by students or are they set up to accommodate those who thinks maths should be taught in a more prescriptive manner. Never sure of an answer. My general rule of thumb is if a kid "gets it" and along the journey "enjoys it" I wil recommend and use any resource that "supports it"

  2. Interesting post Robert.

    For me, learning maths is important. Very important. I don't think CfE changes this, and it's unfortunate that there's a perception that it has.

    CfE is about shifting the balance a little, not abandoning maths in favour of groupwork.

  3. Sounds like a good rule of thumb John.

    Don't get me wrong Fearghal - I believe we can help young people to learn maths more effectively through groupwork. But I really don't know how may parents agree. Perhaps I should ask some :-)


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