Salman Khan, Founder of the Khan Academy, Educates The Masses

Salman Khan is one of my heroes. No, not Bollywood’s Bad Boy. I mean the Asian American educator and founder of the Khan Academy.

Khan’s father is from Barisal, Bangladesh and his mother is from Calcutta, India. He himself was born and raised in New Orleans, LA. And he is anything but a bad boy.

After becoming the valedictorian of his high school, he went on to get three degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: a BS in mathematics, a BS in electrical engineering & computer science, and an MS in electrical engineering & computer science. As if that’s not enough, he also earned an MBA from Harvard Business School and did a brief stint at Xerox PARC at the same time. He finally graduated into the lucrative hedge fund industry and worked for a Northern California-based investment firm. Tiger Mom, eat your heart out.

Almost two years into his hedge fund career, he began tutoring his cousin Nadia in mathematics. Khan used a Yahoo! Messenger feature called Yahoo! Doodle, where he could draw on the screen to illustrate his lessons. This worked out well. As other relatives and friends sought his help, he decided to scale his tutelage. Thus began YouTube channel The Khan Academy.

Then one day, he got an email thanking him for his useful videos. Then another. And another. The number of views shot up. Students everywhere were discovering his video tutorials. They allowed students to learn at their own pace, stop & rewind when necessary, and clarify misunderstandings on particular topics while outside the classroom. It didn’t hurt that Khan’s manner was engaging and humorous too. Even his cousin said she preferred his videos to him in person.

As his views grew, so did the number of his videos and topics covered. Requests poured in for more topics. Physics. Organic chemistry. Differential equations. Khan happily obliged. Finally, after about six years in the hedge fund industry, including an attempt to create his own investment company Khan Capital Management, he quit to focus on the Khan Academy full-time. Bill Gates later said about this move, “We’ve moved about 160 IQ points from the hedge fund category to the teaching-many-people-in-a-leveraged-way category. It was a good day his wife let him quit his job.”

Since then, the Khan Academy has grown significantly. There are over 2,100 video tutorials, all made by Khan himself. Part-time volunteers have helped translate some of the videos too. And his vision is lofty. He explains it well in a recent TED Talk:

I feel like swooning. I love that vision. Education is one of my personal passions. I’m a fervent believer in education reform. Although I’m in the high-tech industry, I don’t believe technology is the only answer – it’s one of many tools. And Khan, in my opinion, has created a wonderful tool.

It should be noted that the Khan Academy is not a business. It is a non-profit organization. Their current full-time team of eight (how lucky!) are compensated by donations given generously by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a $2M award they received from Google’s Project 10 to the 100.

Whether you like his vision of education or not, he’s certainly had a positive impact on a lot of people. Even I found it helpful to brush up on statistics and valuation & investing myself. When the time comes, I look forward to using his tutorials to augment my children’s education too.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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About Mike

I'm an idealistic realist, humanistic technologist & constant student. And what, you want to Internet-stalk me too? Why, sure.
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