Education Q & A: Shantanu Sinha, Khan Academy

Ahead of Sal Khan's appearance at our Disruptors education event, we sit down with Khan Academy President & COO - Shantanu Sinha - to gauge his thoughts on the future of education and find out a little more about their work...

What are the biggest problems or challenges that you see facing the modern education system?

I think one of the biggest challenges in today's climate is that we don't do a great job at making learning relevant to people at the right time and place. The current system is too much of an obstacle course that highly values people who can overcome the obstacles. It should be far more supportive of people, regardless of their age, starting point or current conditions. For example, we have a huge structural unemployment problem. There are millions of jobs that need skilled labour, and there are millions of people who need jobs but lack the skills. This is the sign of a system that isn't properly meeting the learning needs of either students or industry.

How would you like to see those problems addressed?  

I'd love to see more free or super low-cost educational opportunities available to people of all ages on every topic imaginable.   Learning shouldn't be confined to schools and colleges.  

It should be a lifelong endeavour that is available online to the self-studier, through low-cost training camps, on-the-job via an employer or other alternative means. No one wins by making education scarce, and we should constantly be investing in providing more opportunities for people to develop the skills they need.

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We should also be investing far more heavily in ensuring we are teaching people "how to learn" and are instilling the right metacognitive skills and mind-sets. If students could take more ownership of their learning, and the opportunities were widely available through a variety of means, far more people would be able to reach their full potential.

What do you think education will look like in 2050?

I think we are living at one of the most exciting times in human history, and it is hard to predict since the landscape is changing so quickly. I hope it takes far less than 35 years, but I would hope that my grandkids could learn anything they want at their own pace and spend the majority of their time on projects and creative endeavors.

How do you think technology will change the way that children learn?

I think it's already changed the way we all learn: we now have far more than the Library of Alexandria in our pocket! Certainly at Khan Academy, one of the impacts of technology we see is that students can augment their school learnings with tutorials that are free and accessible anywhere. 

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Instead of struggling with homework with no recourse, there's a world of resources awaiting them. We can personalise the experience for every individual's needs, making the experience far more effective than a textbook. Technology can also connect people in ways never before imaginable, allowing people to tutor each other and collaborate across vast geographies.

What is the ultimate goal you hope to achieve in education for the next generation?

Khan Academy's mission is about providing a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere and we're slowly making that more and more possible by expanding our content efforts and also by translating and localizing our content into different languages. I hope our enduring legacy is that students of any age across the world can access the resources they need and achieve the goals they set for themselves in doing so.

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